New Delhi: Parliament on Wednesday passed an amendment to the oil pipelines act to make acts of terrorism to destroy oil and gas pipelines in the country punishable by a maximum of death sentence.
   
The Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Amendment Bill, 2010, passed by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, provides for a jail term of a minimum of ten years' rigorous imprisonment for acts of terrorism. The Lok Sabha has already passed the bill.
   
The punishment "may extend to imprisonment for life or death" in case the act of sabotage is dangerous and is likely to cause death of any other person, the amendment bill states.
   
Prior to the amendment, the Act provided for a jail term of one to three years' for acts of sabotage and pilferage.
   
Replying to the debate on the bill, Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas R P N Singh said the existing sections in the 1962 Act did not contain adequate provisions to prevent such incidents.
   
Acts of sabotage to any crude oil, petroleum product and natural gas would now be punishable with rigorous imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine.
   
On reservations expressed by members on onus lying on the accused to prove innocence, the Minister said "this will apply only for mafias and saboteurs."
   
On the death penalty clause in the Bill, Singh said this would be applicable in "rarest of the rare cases against the mafias and saboteurs."

Singh said the word "willfully has been inserted in the Bill" to safeguard innocent people who have either accidentally or by mistake caused harm to any pipeline.
   
Pilferage of petroleum products from pipelines and damage to infrastructure would attract a punishment of rigorous imprisonment of not less than three years and may extend up to 10 years for the second and subsequent offence.
   
The Minister said in the last five years, Rs 16.04 crore has been lost in 230 cases of pilferage of pipelines.    

He said in the next Plan period, Government has plans to lay over 18,000 km of pipelines for petroleum products.
   
Initiating the debate, Rajiv Pratap Rudy (BJP) sought making farmers stake-holders in the protection of pipelines passing through their land.
   
Disagreeing with provisions of six-months imprisonment for removal of a signage, Rudy said giving officials right of policing over private land was wrong as it will encourage corruption.
   
Birender Singh (Congress) too suggested making farmers a partner in protection of pipelines and demanded that they must be paid some royalty or rent for use of their land.
   
Avtar Singh Karimpuri (BSP) suggested setting up of a special task force for providing protection to the pipelines as farmers would be unable to challenge Naxals and protect the pipelines.
   
Mani Shankar Aiyar (Nom), a former Petroleum Minister, said the clause to lay the onus on the accused to prove innocence is like the Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA) and it should be looked into.

Agencies