The Punjab Assembly on Tuesday passed the Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2017, and the Code of Criminal Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Bill that make desecration of religious texts punishable with life imprisonment, The Tribune reported. This came a week after the state Cabinet approved the amendments.
In June 2016, more than 250 people were booked in Malerkotla in Sangrur district after pages of the Quran were reportedly found in the town. The year before, at least four incidents of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib were reported from across the state, with the Central Bureau of Investigation looking into three of them.
The bills were originally introduced in the Assembly in March 2016 but were withdrawn after the President refused to grant assent as the Centre had objected to making the desecration of only the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism’s holy book, punishable with a life term.
During a discussion on the amendments, Aam Aadmi Party legislator Aman Arora asked the government to introduce another amendment to ensure that trials in such cases are completed within six months, The Tribune reported. Shiromani Akali Dal MLA Gurpratap Singh Wadala said his party supports the bill. People should get closure on this sensitive matter, he added.
Another Shiromani Akali Dal legislator, Bikram Singh Majithia, said the desecration of Guru Granth Sahib should be treated separately as the holy book is accepted as a living guru.
Ranjit Singh Commission report
Meanwhile, the Assembly witnessed tumultuous scenes as the government tabled the Justice (retired) Ranjit Singh Commission report on incidents of desecration of religious texts, PTI reported.
The one-man commission, which was set up in April 2017, has named former Punjab Chief Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal in a supplementary report for his “apparent involvement” in police action against anti-sacrilege protestors at Kotkapura, near Bathinda, about three years ago.
The Opposition party has alleged the report was leaked and has called it “waste paper”. The party has also accused Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Ranjit Singh and preacher Baljit Singh Daduwal of attempting to weaken the Akali Dal and divide Sikhs by fabricating evidence.
On Tuesday, Assembly proceedings had to be adjourned briefly after the Akali Dal protested against the amount of time it had been allotted during a debate on the report. Bikram Singh Majithia said the 14 minutes the party had been given was inadequate. Akali Dal legislators rushed to the Well of the House and demanded that they be given more time.
The Akali Dal’s legislators then walked out of the House and held a “mock session” outside in protest, The Tribune reported.
“I dare you, Amarinder Singh, to let us have equal time as you have siphoned off in the Assembly and then let there be a debate,” tweeted Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal. “You have run away from the debate by limiting us to only 14 minutes while you lay allegations against us for an hour and 20 minutes. Let us have equal time and see who runs away.”
Earlier in the day, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh asked the Akali Dal not to run away from the debate.
Congress MLA Harminder Singh Gill, who began the debate in the Assembly, talked of the involvement of Dera Sacha Sauda followers in the sacrilege cases, The Tribune reported. He talked of a report that said the Badals were instrumental in granting of pardon to Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim. The legislator demanded serious punishment for all the guilty, including Parkash Singh Badal, and said a case should be registered against Sukhbir Badal for defaming people.
The House decided to form a committee to investigate Sukhbir Singh Badal’s allegation that the report was prepared at the “residence of chief minister Amarinder Singh”, The Indian Express reported. It also passed a resolution, moved by AAP MLA Harpal Cheema, condemning legislators of the Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party for throwing copies of the report in the Assembly.