Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday announced his government was not intending to implement the controversial amendment to the Kerala Police Act, which was widely condemned as a draconian measure that could put unprecedented curbs on free speech.
“Multiple opinions have cropped up once the amendment was announced. Those supportive of the LDF government and those who want democracy protected have expressed their concern,” the chief minister said in an official statement.
“In such a context, we don't intend to implement the amendment. Further steps would be taken only after a detailed discussion in the Assembly and after collecting the views of a large cross-section of people,” he added.
Nonetheless, the amendment still holds good. For it to be withdrawn, the Cabinet will have to first meet and issue a formal request to the Governor asking him to withdraw the Kerala Police (Amendment) Act, 2020, under Article 213(2)(b) of the Constitution. This section gives the Governor the power to withdraw an ordinance "any time".
To allow the Ordinance to die a natural death would mean to wait till the Kerala Assembly reconvenes, probably in the firt week of January. The Ordinance will cease to operate after six weeks from the reassembly of the Legislature, or even before if the Legislature passes a resolution disapproving the Ordinance.
The chief minister's statement came soon after CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury told a media conference in Delhi that it would be scrapped. "We don't subscribe to the manner in which the ordinance was issued. We will reconsider the Bill. We will also examine all allegations that were raised against the new amendment. The Kerala government itself would provide the details soon," Yechury told the media in Delhi.
The chief minister's official release repealing the amendment came soon after. It was obvious the CPM central leadership had forced its powerful state unit to toe its line.
The Kerala Police (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, issued on November 21, inserted a new clause, 118 (A), that the government officially said was to prevent hate crimes against women and children. As it turned out, the amendment was seen as an establishment ploy to silence all dissenting voices.
Here is what the clause said: "Whoever creates, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine which may extend to Rs 10,000 or with both."
The crime was made cognizable, allowing the police to suo motu initiate a case. However many expressions used in the amendment like 'humiliating' and 'abusing' were open-ended, giving rise to fears that the police would be armed with unlimited power to crack down on political opponents.
Shockingly, it was also found that the new clause could be invoked even against unpublished material.
The Chief Minister, in his official statement announcing the withdrawal, said that the amendment was introduced to put an end to the falsehoods that are being spread against people using social media and otherwise.