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Govt insists on stringent provisions in Witch Hunting Act
MAMATA MISHRA
 GUWAHATI, Feb 15 - The Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act 2015, drafted as the strictest legislation of its genre in the country, is unlikely to lose potency in the process of getting President’s assent, with the State government also pitching for not giving anticipatory bail for the crimes under its ambit.The State government has conveyed its stand to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on keeping the Act/Bill as stringent as it was meant to be, by not compromising on the ‘non-bailable’ provision of the Bill.

The Act/Bill, now awaiting Presidential nod, was passed by the State Legislative Assembly in August 2015, making offences within its domain as ‘cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable’, to eliminate superstition from the society.

According to the sources within the State Home and Political Department, the MHA had referred back some of the provisions of the legislation to the State government for a review, concerning the stringent nature of the Act, mainly penal provisions.

“One of the main queries coming back for review was pertaining to granting of anticipatory bail. To this, the State government insisted on anticipatory bail being not made available for such crimes. The State government is particular about making it an Act with strong teeth,” the sources added.

Other queries were related to increasing the scale of the sentence under the Act, making the local officials bound to take up the investigation in the superstition-related incidents and also the provision of collective fine on a community, if such practice is found in any part of the State. There are penal provisions for suspecting a person for witchery and calling them by various names, to outright physical assault, property annexation, etc.

The State has witnessed some of the most gruesome incidents in the name of witch-hunting, including murder, rape, revenge and property annexation. In October last year, two women were pushed into a well and buried alive on suspicion of practicing black magic in Nagaon district.

The proposed Act prohibits any person from calling, identifying or defaming any other person as witch by words, signs, conducts or indications.

“We have sent back our feedback to the MHA and the assent is likely to be conveyed very soon,” the sources added.

The law to curb the scourge, a long standing demand of the civil societies and people, is supposed to empower the law enforcing agencies to prevent and protect persons subjected to atrocities, physical and mental harassment on the pretext of witch-hunting and other superstition-related crimes, compared to existing penal provisions.

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