LS passes Bills to replace British-era criminal laws
The Lok Sabha has passed three amended Bills aimed at the comprehensive reform of outdated criminal laws that trace their origins to the colonial era. This criminal law overhaul marks a significant departure as it assimilates terrorism offenses into general criminal law, eliminates the crime of sedition, and introduces the provision of capital punishment for mob lynching.
GS-2 (Government policies and interventions)
- Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita Bill (BNSS): Replaces the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
- Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill (BSS): Replaces the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
- Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita Bill (BNSSS): Replaces the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.
- Terrorism Redefined: A notable aspect of the reform is the incorporation of a definition of terrorism in the Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita Bill (BNSS). This inclusion marks a departure from the past and categorizes terrorism as a distinct offense within the general crime law. The move is motivated by the imperative to address the complex challenges posed by acts of terrorism.
- Elimination of Sedition: In a significant departure from historical norms, the new legal framework eliminates the crime of sedition. Home Minister Amit Shah emphasized this shift by replacing “Rajdroha” (sedition) with “Deshdroha” (offense against the nation). The intention is to align the legal system with contemporary values and prioritize national interests over individual charges.
- Capital Punishment for Mob Lynching: The Bills introduce a stringent provision, making mob lynching punishable by death. This move underscores the gravity with which the legal system views incidents of mob violence and aims to act as a deterrent against such heinous acts.
- Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita Bill (BNSS) Amendment: An amendment proposed by Home Minister Amit Shah to the BNSS holds significance. The amendment excludes doctors from criminal prosecution for death due to medical negligence. Additionally, it imposes ten years of imprisonment for hit-and-run accident cases, reflecting a focus on addressing specific nuances in criminal liability.
- Justice Over Punishment: Home Minister Shah emphasized that the Bills prioritize justice over punishment. The overarching goal is to create laws that stand the test of time, accommodating technological advancements and ensuring fairness in the legal system.
- Opposition’s Absence: It’s noteworthy that the Bills were discussed and passed with a voice vote in the absence of a significant number of Opposition members, as 97 of them have been suspended during the ongoing session. This absence has sparked debates regarding the propriety of passing key legislation without the participation of a substantial section of the opposition.
- Lack of Safeguards Against Police Excess: The proposed laws, especially the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita Bill (BNSSS), have faced criticism for lacking robust safeguards against police excess as it allows police custody for up to 90 days, as opposed to the previous 15-day limit, which could lead to potential abuse and undermine individual rights.
- Impact on Right to Criticize Government: The elimination of the crime of sedition has been met with skepticism. While the move is framed as a shift from “Rajdroha” (sedition) to “Deshdroha” (offense against the nation), concerns are raised about the potential chilling effect on the right to criticize the government. Critics argue that the replacement might still allow for the suppression of dissent under the guise of protecting national interests.
- Ambiguity in Terrorism Definition: The inclusion of terrorism as a separate category within the general crime law has sparked debates as the definition of terrorism is not sufficiently clear and could be open to interpretation, potentially leading to misuse or subjective application. The lack of precise parameters for what constitutes terrorism has raised concerns about its potential broad application.
- Capital Punishment for Mob Lynching: Opponents argue that the death penalty is a severe and irreversible form of punishment, and its inclusion raises ethical and human rights concerns.
- Lack of Consultation: Some argue that key legislative changes of this magnitude should involve extensive consultations with legal experts, civil society, and the public. The absence of a more inclusive approach has led to concerns about the legitimacy of the reforms.
The success of these reforms lies in their effective implementation, continuous evaluation, and responsiveness to the evolving needs of society. The collaboration of stakeholders, coupled with an informed and vigilant citizenry, will shape the trajectory of India’s legal landscape in the years to come.