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In a private member Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha on Friday, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has suggested far-reaching amendments to various statutes to make it difficult for governments to ban books and to provide safeguards for authors and scholars from arbitrary and exhausting legal battles

Highlights of the Bill:

The Freedom of Literature Bill, 2018, puts on the government the onus of explaining why a book needs to be banned and removes the government’s right to ban books indefinitely.The Bill envisages reading down Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code that provides for imprisonment of up to three years for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs,” as well as Section 298, which is similar to 295A as it criminalises speech critical of religious organisations or religious figures, and therefore a major deterrent to free expression. Mr.Tharoor cites the example of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History, which was banned in India because of legal travails under 295A.The most important part of the Bill, however, are the amendment to the Customs Act that allows governments to suspend the shipping in of books over an indefinite period (as had happened with the ban on Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses).

Private member’s Bill:

Private Member – Any MP who is not a Minister is referred to as a private member. Government Bills – Bills introduced by Ministers are referred to as government bills. They are backed by the government, and reflect its legislative agenda. Private member’s bills purpose is to draw the government’s attention to what individual MPs see as issues and gaps in the existing legal framework, which require legislative intervention.The admissibility of a private member’s Bill is decided by the Rajya Sabha Chairman in the case if it is introduced in Rajya Sabha. In the case of Lok Sabha, it is the Speaker; the procedure is roughly the same for both Houses.The Member must give at least a month’s notice before the Bill can be listed for introduction; the House secretariat examines it for compliance with constitutional provisions and rules on legislation before listing.Up to 1997, private members could introduce up to three Bills in a week. This led to a piling up of Bills that were introduced but never discussed; Chairman K R Narayanan, therefore, capped the number of private member’s Bills to three per session. While government Bills can be introduced and discussed on any day, private member’s Bills can be introduced and discussed only on Fridays.Fourteen private member’s Bills — five of which were introduced in Rajya Sabha — have become law so far.

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