Sharad Pawar’s additional affidavit to Bhima Koregaon Commission suggests legal reforms

EVEN as the Koregaon Bhima Commission of Inquiry has summoned Nationalist Congress Party [NCP] leader Sharad Pawar to depose as a witness on May 5 and 6, the NCP supremo has filed an additional affidavit before the commission, suggesting multiple changes to India’s laws. The additional affidavit filed by Pawar on April 11, details of which were just released on April 27, suggests that Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code [IPC] be scrapped. Pawar noted that provisions under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 were “sufficient for protecting national integrity”. He submitted that in recent times, the sedition law was being “misused” against those who criticised the government to suppress their liberty and stifle voices of dissent.

Pawar’s affidavit also proposed other changes to various provisions of the IPC and Code of Criminal Procedure [CrPC], including making Section 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant) of the IPC a non-bailable offence. He also suggested amendments to procedural laws, including dispersal of unlawful assembly and Chapter VIII cases of the CrPC.

Notably, Pawar’s affidavit also called for a reintroduction of the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, adding that it be reintroduced with appropriate guidelines in line with the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Shreya Singhal case of 2015 which read down the law. Pawar added that such legislation was needed to curb the “inflammatory potential of online violent campaigns”, including communal hatred and malafide online campaigns happening via social media.

Commenting on the role of the media as a fourth pillar to the Constitution, his affidavit suggests that law enforcement and intelligence authorities be trained on ‘media intelligence’ to ensure better coordination between the executive’s functions and those of the media.

Pawar had first filed an affidavit on September 18, 2018 to depose before the commission, with this being his additional affidavit.

The two-member commission is headed by retired High Court Justice J.N. Patel and retired bureaucrat Sumit Mullick to probe the reasons behind the violence which broke out in Pune’s Koregaon Bhima area following the Elgar Parishad event on January 1, 2018. After an event was held to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the victory of the British-led Mahars over the Peshwai in the battle of Bhima Koregaon, one person died and several others were injured in the ensuing violence. In the aftermath of those events, Pawar had alleged the involvement of Hindutva groups in it.

The NCP leader was called to depose earlier on February 23 and February 24 this year, but sought adjournment of his hearing, seeking more time to file his additional affidavit.