NEW DELHI: The Assam government, following the orders of the Guwahati High Court, appeared in court on Monday and informed the bench that it would table the anti witch-hunting law in the next Assembly session.

The state government was slammed by the High Court on April 1 over the delay in the witch-hunting law. The Assam Home Secretary, L.S Changsan was ordered then by the court to appear before the it in person on April 6 and apprise it of the measures taken by the state government to keep the evil practice of “witch-hunting” in the state in check..

Changsan, who appeared before the High Court on Monday submitted that the state government would introduce the bill in the monsoon season (June-July) of the Assembly. He also apprised the court of the steps taken by the government towards framing the law.

Assam advocate-general A.C. Burgohain submitted that the draft of the bill was awaiting cabinet approval. The draft had been prepared by CID additional director-general Mukesh Sahay and necessary modifications were made at a recent meeting presided over by the Home Secretary, he informed. With the approval from the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, the home department had sent the draft to the departments concerned like social welfare, personnel and law.

The draft bill proposes to make witch-hunting a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence. Further, a person booked under it will not even be able to apply for an anticipatory bail.

Senior advocate Bhaskar Dev Konwar believed there was scope for improvement in the draft bill and the government should invite suggestions from the stakeholders, including NGOs working against witch-hunting in the state.

The division bench of Chief Justice (acting) K. Sreedhar Rao and Justice Prasanta Kumar Saikia which is looking after this case were irked that the government did not appear to be much concerned about the issue.

It has asked the state government to place the draft bill in the public domain as a part of the pre-legislative consultative process as early as possible so that the bill can be passed in the next Assembly session as committed by the government to the court.

The High Court further warned that the failure to table the bill in the next session would attract contempt of court proceedings.

On November 3 lat year, the Assam government had submitted in court that they would take effective steps within a month, including the enactment of a law,in order to tackle the menace of witch-hunting.

However, Rajeeb Kalita , the petitioner of this case (he had filed a Public Interest Litigation) said that the government failed to obey the court orders and after five months from the date of the order only managed to prepare a draft of the law. In fact, even that draft wasn’t submitted to the court, instead, the government only verbally informed the court about the draft.

The social evil of witch hunting is quite prevalent in the state of Assam and has resulted in hundreds of killings in the state. There has been longstanding demand to end this practice from various sections of the society with organisations demanding a stringent law for the same.

According to data available with the state government, 82 persons lost their lives in incidents of witch-hunting in Assam between 2009 and February this year. Police arrested 567 persons for their alleged involvement in witch-hunting in this period. Altogether 98 cases have been registered in connection with these killings or attempted killings.