What could be marked as a black law in a tolerant democratic polity is precisely what the Sikkim govt. proposes to do now by passing Sikkim Prevention and Control of Disturbance of Public Order Bill. The Telegraph reported that on Thursday that the Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling who also holds the home portfolio tabled the bill in the Assembly to address “social vices and offences” that might cause disturbances to public order.
The draconian bill termed a “black bill” by Opposition parties proposes to impose harsh punishments on a wide range of ‘misdemeanors’, ranging from taking out processions, staging demonstrations and hunger strikes, squatting, sloganeering, waving black flags or any other form of agitation that might “promote enmity or hatred between sections of the society” on the “grounds of religion, race or caste”. The opposition have no representation in the Assembly as all 32 seats are held by Sikkim Democratic Front.
Employing children as domestic help, public nuisance, drunken behaviour, smoking in public by those below eighteen years of age and drug abuse will also come under scanner. The proposed law also seeks to ban persons below 18 years from entering bars and discos. All such actions will be deemed disturbances to public order, the bill states.
All offences under this law shall be considered cognisable and non-bailable and will attract five years in jail and a minimum fine of Rs 50,000. For drug abuse, the penalty will be Rs 1 lakh and five-and- a-half years in jail.
Under the provisions of the bill, a special court will be set up with the concurrence of the Chief Justice of Sikkim High Court by a state govt. notification. A special court will be set up in each of the four district.
Legal experts described the proposed state law “unconstitutional” and said it would be scrapped if taken to court.
“The state government after due deliberations felt that there is a need to deal with such types of offences affecting public order. This can only be effectively addressed by having an appropriate law/rule in place,” CM Chamling said while introducing the bill.
The bill that will be put to vote on August 26.
“The provisions proposed in the bill are in total violation of the democratic values and norms. This is a black law that seeks to suppress the voice of the people and is against fundamental rights,” said Kumga Nima Lepcha, the acting president of the Sikkim Pradesh Congress Committee.
The state BJP president, Padam Chhetri, said the bill was totally “undemocratic”. “Such laws are not implemented in a democracy. All the opposition parties should be united against this law. Just because there is no Opposition in the Assembly does not mean that such Taliban-like rules are to be passed as a law. By this law any dissenting voice will be crushed,” said Chhetri.
In recent times vociferous protest were led in Sikkim capital Gangtok by the Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT) against the construction of mega-hydel projects in Lepcha reserve in Dzongu in North Sikkim. “The ban on agitation might be interpreted in any way. ACT activists Dawa Lepcha and Tenzing Gyatso Lepcha, who held hunger strikes for 53 days and 96 days in 2007 and 2008 respectively in Gangtok, had caused some embarrassment to the Chamling government that is into its fourth term now,” a political observer told the Telegraph.
A former judge of Calcutta High Court, Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee, commented: “Even though a portion of the laws related to public order has been placed on the state list and the state has the power to enact legislation on them, the bill placed by the Sikkim government will not be considered as valid if challenged in court.”
The judge said the state governments could enact laws on minor offences that affect public order like littering and committing nuisance. “But as far as public disorders like promoting enmity or hatred or disaffection among different communities are concerned, there are strong central laws for it. On these issues, a state government cannot enact any law,” Banerjee told The Telegraph in Calcutta.
Indeed, banning the most common form of legitimate protests acceptable in democracies all over the world should invite widest form of condemnation from various sections of the society.