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Revamp of colonial-era laws (Special)

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    18th Aug, 2023

Context

India’s government moved three bills in the lower house of parliament aimed at overhauling some colonial-era criminal laws, ranging from the controversial sedition law to strengthening laws that protect women and minors.

About the proposed Bills:

  • The Bills are going to repeal and replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure(CrPC), and the Indian Evidence Act, which were implemented by the British before the country’s independence in 1947 as under;

Previous Act/Code

Proposed Code

Major Changes

Indian Penal Code, 1860

Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, 2023

It will have 356 sections instead of the earlier 511 sections, 175 sections have been amended, 8 new sections have been added and 22 sections have been repealed.

Criminal Procedure Code, 1898

Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill, 2023

With 533 sections, 160 sections have been changed, & 9 new sections have been added and 9 sections have been repealed.

Indian Evidence Act, 1872

Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023,

It will now have 170 sections instead of the earlier 167, 23 sections have been changed, 1 new section has been added and 5 repealed.

  • The bill seeks to replace the colonial-era sedition law which was mainly used against Indian political leaders seeking independence from British rule.
  • Also, the state-of-the-art technologies have been incorporated in these laws.
  • The objective of these laws will not be to punish anyone but give justice and in this process punishment will be given where it is required to create a sense of prevention of crime.

Major changes from IPC to BNS Bill

The BNS Bill contains 356 provisions as compared to 511 sections in the IPC. Here are the major changes it proposes.

Sedition:

  • The legislation proposed also seeks to replace the sedition law, which came into force in 1860.
  • The British used the provision to punish Indian leaders seeking independence during the 19th and early 20th century.
  • IPC Section 124-A deals with offence of sedition, prescribing sentence of life imprisonment or imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added.
  • Meanwhile, the BNS Bill’s provision 150 under the chapter pertaining to offences against the State covers acts endangering sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.
    • The section says, “Whoever, purposely or knowingly, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or by electronic communication or by use of financial mean, or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite, secession or armed rebellion or subversive activities, or encourages feelings of separatist activities or endangers sovereignty or unity and integrity of India; or indulges in or commits any such act shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.”

Murder:

  • The offence of murder covered under section 302 of the IPC, is covered under provision 101 of the BNS Bill.
  • The punishment, life term or death sentence, remains unchanged.
    • Provision 101 (2) of the BNS Bill says, "when a group of five or more persons acting in concert commits murder on the ground of race, caste or community, sex, place of birth, language, personal belief or any other ground each member of such group shall be punished with death or with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than seven years, and shall also be liable to fine."

Snatching:

  • Another change is a new provision on "snatching" under section 302 of the BNS Bill.
  • It says, "Theft is 'snatching' if, in order to commit theft, the offender suddenly or quickly or forcibly seizes or secures or grabs or takes away from any person or from his possession any moveable property."
  • It proposes imprisonment of up to three years, and liability to fine for whoever commits snatching.

Terrorism:

  • In a first, the BNS Bill defines terrorism, which was not done in the IPC.
  • Provision 111 of the BNS Bill mentions, "A person is said to have committed a terrorist act if he commits any act in India or in any foreign country with the intention to threaten the unity, integrity and security of India, to intimidate the general public or a segment thereof, or to disturb public order by doing an act."

Defamation:

  • IPC directs a punishment of simple imprisonment of up to two years, or with fine, or with both for the offence of defamation.
  • The BNS Bill adds community service to the punishment, proposing a simple imprisonment of up to two years, or with fine, or with both or with community service.

Suicide:

  • From a sentence of up to one year or with fine or both under Section 309 of IPC, Section 224 of the BNS Bill covers suicide proposing, "whoever attempts to commit suicide with the intent to compel or restrain any public servant from discharging his official duty shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both or with community service."

Marrying a woman, having sexual intercourse with a woman using “deceitful means”:

  • Section 69, dealing with sexual offences against women and children, of the BNS Bill says "Whoever, by deceitful means or making by promise to marry to a woman without any intention of fulfilling the same, and has sexual intercourse with her, such sexual intercourse not amounting to the offence of rape, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine."
  • "Deceitful means" is explained to include the false promise of employment or promotion, inducement or marrying after suppressing identity.

Other proposed changes

  • Capital punishment for mob lynching: The proposed bills also contain provisions allowing capital punishment for perpetrators of mob lynchings. They also prescribe minimum sentences of 20 years for gang rape.
  • Community Service provision: The bills also introduce community service provisions for petty crimes rather than custodial sentences.
  • Fixed Timelines: And fixed timelines would be imposed for trials and criminal investigations.

Need for such a legislation:

  • From 1860 to 2023, the criminal justice system of India continued to be operated on the basis of the laws made by the British Parliament, but now these three laws will be replaced with new laws imbibing the Indian soul, which will bring a big change in our criminal justice system.

Significance:

  • The definition of documents has been expanded to include electronic or digital records, e-mails, server logs, computers, smart phones, laptops, SMS, websites, locational evidence, mails and messages available on devices, which can be used in courts, which will give reduce the burden of officials.
  • These laws will digitize the entire process from FIR to case diary, case diary to charge sheet and from charge sheet to judgement.

Criminal Justice System in India:

  • Criminal Justice System refers to the agencies of government charged with enforcing law, adjudicating crime, and correcting criminal conduct.
  • Objective:
    • To prevent the occurrence of crime
    • To punish the transgressors and the criminals
    • To rehabilitate the transgressors and the criminals
    • To compensate the victims as far as possible
    • To maintain law and order in society
    • To deter offenders from committing any criminal act in the future

Why there is a need for reforms?                                                              

  • Colonial Legacy: The criminal justice system- both substantive and procedural- are replica of the British colonial jurisprudence, which were designed with the purpose of ruling the nation.
  • Therefore, the relevance of these 19th century laws is debatable in the 21st century.
  • Ineffective Justice Delivery: The purpose of the criminal justice system was to protect the rights of the innocents and punish the guilty, but nowadays the system has become a tool of harassment of common people.
  • Pendency of Cases: According to Economic Survey 2018-19, there are about 3.5 crore cases pending in the judicial system, especially in district and subordinate courts, which leads to actualization of the maxim Justice delayed is justice denied.”
  • Huge Undertrials: India has one of the world’s largest numbers of under-trial prisoners.
  • According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)-Prison Statistics India, 67.2% of our total prison population comprises of under trial prisoners.
  • Police Issue: Police are being a front line of the criminal judiciary system, which played a vital role in the administration of justice. Corruption, huge workload and accountability of police is a major hurdle in speedy and transparent delivery of justice.

Draft Rules of Criminal Practice, 2020: The Draft Rules recommends reforms in investigation and trial, including proposals to employ separate teams of lawyers to help the police during the probe and for the trial; details to be covered while drafting spot panchnamas and even corrections in body sketches.

Way forward:

The bills – replacing the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act – have been referred to a parliamentary committee for further deliberation

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