Bahutva Karnataka, a civic rights group has alleged that the Karnataka BJP government passed some key laws without due consultation but through the ordinance, a route meant for emergencies.
The laws affect food security, make practising agriculture much more difficult, weaken workers’ rights and lead to attacks on minorities and Dalits in the state, the group has observed.
Karnataka Land Reforms Amendment Act 2020 was passed as an ordinance during the coronavirus pandemic period, without widespread consultation or debate, the report notes. Key changes to the earlier Land Reforms Act include the removal of criteria as to who can purchase land, enhancing the ceiling limits, and empowering local officials to process such transactions.
These law, according to Bahutva group, “affects labourers adversely, and is also the death-knell of small and marginal farmers.” “Already, as reports from several districts indicate, this Act has facilitated the entry of a range of land speculators into rural areas. There are indications that acreage under food crops has decreased in Karnataka, with serious implications for the state’s food security,” read the report.
Another key law is Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Preservation of Cattle Act, 2021.
This new law enacted by Karnataka’s BJP government makes it illegal to buy, sell, transport, slaughter, trade all types of cattle– cows, bulls, oxen, and buffaloes (below the age of 13). Those found guilty can be put in jail for a minimum of 3 years and up to 7 years. They can be fined from Rs 50,000 to Rs 5 Lakhs.
“Many livelihoods related to cattle rearing have been badly affected” by the law, argued the rights group.
“It is evident that the law was passed to harass a section of Dalits and Muslims who are dependent on cattle for their livelihood,” it said. “This will have a negative impact not only for the nutrition and health of Dalits and Muslims but also on the entire farming community of the state,” the report stated.
Another important observation is that the beef trade has only changed hands – away from small scale businesses to large scale non-Muslim export businesses. “It has also produced a new realm of bribe seekers in the form of the police/ vigilantes,” the report said.
With the Karnataka Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation and Development) Act, 2020 Amendment, according to the Bahutva group, the government no longer restricts traders to buying from Agricultural Produce Marketing Corporations (APMCs).
It said: “While there were problems with APMCs and also too few of them, the APMCs are democratic, regulated institutions that protected farmers’ interests that also fixed minimum price to be paid to farmers. Instead of fixing existing problems, the government has weakened the APMCs and left farmers with no protection. If a farmer is cheated in an APMC s/he can complain to the APMC, but outside they will have no recourse. The M.S Swaminathan commission recommended that the government construct more APMCs, but this amendment might lead to existing APMCs shutting down as business inside APMCs reduces.”
Another key law, Karnataka Religious Structures (Protection) Act 2021, defies a Supreme Court Order of 2009 which enjoined the state Government to take action against illegal structures on public property, Bahutva group alleged.
“It undermines municipal laws which are meant to protect and democratically develop the public spaces of the city/town or village. It also opens the door to further violations of municipal bye laws, and illegal occupations of public spaces,” read the report.
Another key, law which was introduced as an ordinance, is Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Act 2022.
The anti-conversion Law was introduced as an ordinance and prohibits religious conversions through misrepresentation, coercion, allurement, fraud, or promise of marriage.
“The person wishing to convert has to put out a public notice. It allows a converted person, her/his relation/associate or her/his colleague to lodge a complaint against what they can claim as an unlawful conversion,” the report noted.
It added: “A person charged with changing her/his faith under coercion will have to prove that there was no coercion or enticement to convert.”
Under this law, a complaint can be lodged against an interfaith marriage, and the couple will have to prove that the marriage did not take place under coercion from either side.
It went on to say: “This law is targeted primarily at Muslims and Christians. Acts of charity (in education and health services) by minority institutions can be viewed as “allurement’, making minority institutions and individuals vulnerable to being targeted.”
The report concludes with the details about Factories (Karnataka Amendment) Bill, 2023.
The key features of the amendment are: 1) Work hours have been increased from 9 hours per day to 12 hours per day subject to a maximum of 48 hours per week, 2) Workers can be made to work continuously for 6 hours without a break, 3) Overtime work hours have been increased from 75 hours in 3 months to 145 hours in 3 months and 4) Women can work night shifts from 7PM to 6AM.
“Karnataka is the first state to pass a bill that introduces controversial elements of the Union Government’s Labour Code. The bill was passed without any consultation with workers, women’s groups, opposition parties, trade unions or any civil society organisation. BJP MLC and former MP Ayyannur Manjunath walked out of the Assembly calling it “anti-labour,”” read the report.