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Shashi Tharoor introduces Freedom of Literature Bill, 2018

The Congress MP has raised pertinent issues with the existing laws and sought to ring in appropriate amendments, but the Bill is unlikely to see the light of day

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has introduced Freedom of Literature Bill, 2018 (Private Member’s Bill) in Lok Sabha, to “amend certain enactment to guarantee and protect literary freedom in the country”.

It seeks amendments to IPC, CrPC, Customs Act 1962, Information Technology Act, 2000, and Indecent Representation of Women ( Prohibition) Act 1986. Tharoor says he has introduced the Bill to enhance literary freedom. The bill seeks to remove “outdated provisions which are not congruent with the spirit of democracy, such as the anti-blasphemy and obscenity laws”. He tweeted: “My bill also substantially curbs the power of the government to ban books.”

Shashi Tharoor (Photo Courtesy: Khabar NDTV)

The Bill seeks omission of Section 295A, 298 of IPC. These sections punish the acts done to outrage religious sentiments. It also seeks to omit Section 292 that punishes publication of obscene material. Furthermore, the Bill seeks to amend Section 293 of IPC, which deals with the distribution of obscene material. The Bill seeks to make such an act an offence only if it is targeted at people below 18 years of age.

The Bill seeks to make child pornography and violation of consent central to Section 67 of the Information Technology Act: “Whoever publishes child pornography or transmit in electronic form any obscene material to a person without such person’s consent, shall be punished.” Tharoor has also sought the amendment of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986, redefining the indecent representation of women as “the derogatory depiction of women or any depiction which encourages or justifies abuse or suppression of women”.

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The Bill also lists an amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 to introduce a provision for state government “to temporarily prohibit publication, circulation or distribution of the document for a period of 30 days on the grounds that it attracts provisions of section 124A or section 153A or section 153B of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.” The amendment proposes that government make an application to the high court for the permanent prohibition of “publication, circulation, and distribution of the document.”

Tharoor’s Bill also seeks an amendment to Section 11 of the Customs Act to have it state that the import of a book cannot be banned, except in rare circumstances where the distribution of the book is likely to be a threat to public order despite the State taking all reasonable measures.

A bill introduced by the Member of the Parliament who is not a minister, ie a non-government member, is known as a Private Member’s Bill. Like with all the Bills, it must be passed by both houses of Parliament followed by presidential assent to become law. Since Shashi Tharoor is a member of the opposition Congress party, it is unlikely that the government and the MPs of the ruling National Democratic Alliance will cooperate in the passing of the Bill. The chances of the Bill becoming law are thus low. As Tharoor said, ”My bills can only become law if the government agrees to facilitate their enactment in Parliament.”

Copy-editing: Lokesh/Anil

(Livelaw has published a copy of the Bill here.)

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