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 A bill on tackling communal violence which is to be presented in parliament in March needs further amendments like defining newer crimes, especially against women, to make it more effective, feel jurists, human rights activists and lawyers who deliberated on its clauses.

The bill, which got the cabinet’s approval in December last year, drew criticism at the National Consultation organised by NGO Anhad in collaboration with Oxfam at the Constitution Club here Friday.

“The bill in the form that it is right now is not acceptable. We should rather not have it than have it at all. Hope we agree on some non-negotiables at the end of this consultation,” said jurist Vahida Nainar at the introductory session here.

The panelists suggested that the framework of the new bill should command responsibility from the official or state powers, specifically acknowledge and provide for gender based violence, acknowledge rights of internally displaced persons, and also safeguard witnesses and provide legal aid as prescribed in a memorandum submitted to the government in November last year.

Over 50 experts on law and human rights issues are taking part in the consultation which ends Saturday with the release of a document on the responses to the bill by the civil society participants.

“The government doesn’t lack power to deal with communal violence situations. The point is that there are instances when they abuse or refuse to use their power. State impunity has become an arrogant norm. There needs to be a change in the structure of power with regards to this legislation,” law scholar Usha Ramanathan pointed out.

Justice K.K. Uma, the first woman chief justice of the Kerala High Court, laid stress on the need for special and fast track courts for justice to the victims of communal violence.

The bill, which was first brought out as the Communal Violence (Suppression) Bill, 2005, had drawn severe flak and was replaced but not vastly improved in the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005.

“It is very important to debate on the bill to ensure that when finally passed it serves its purpose and does not become another tool in the hands of the communal forces,” said Kavita Srivastava, a noted lawyer and human rights activist.

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