New India, new criminal justice laws

On Friday, Union Home Minister Amit Shah tabled three important bills in the Lok Sabha to replace the British era  Indian Penal Code (1860),  Criminal Procedure Code 1898 (1973), and the Indian Evidence Act (1872). It is a welcome move by the government to get rid of the outdated criminal laws which don’t sync with the country’s present and changed situations. Shah too pointed this out when he said the nation is celebrating the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav which is set to culminate and Amrit Kaal is beginning. Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav will end on August 15 and the journey of 75 to 100 years of independence will begin on August 16, which will create a new and great India.

Interestingly, the Lutiyan media personnel and the Opposition may find fault with how can the Criminal Procedure Code 1898 was amended in 1973 be still called a colonial.  And the difference of enactment of 1898 in 1973, which came into force on April 1974, has only provided the machinery for the investigation of crime, apprehension of suspected criminals, collection of evidence, determination of guilt or innocence of the accused person, and the determination of punishment of the guilty.  This was hitherto been as per the colonial Britishers’ 1898 when a person gets arrested not to be detained more than 24 hours: No police officer shall detain in custody a person arrested without a warrant for a longer period than under all the circumstances of the case is reasonable, and such period shall not, in the absence of a special order of Magistrate under Section 167.  Hence, the so-called change of the erstwhile 1898 Criminal Code in 1973 by erstwhile Congress government was nothing short of ‘hogwash.’  Contrary to this, the new law is more effective and detrimental to rendering justice to the victim.

He reminded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, wherein he had kept Panch Pran in front of the people, and one of them was to end all signs of slavery. Hence, these bills are in a way fulfilling one of the five promises made by Modi.  “All these three bills have basic laws for the criminal justice system,” Shah pointed out. Now, the Indian Penal Code will be replaced by the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, the Criminal Procedure Code by the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill, and the Indian Evidence Act will be superseded by the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill. The Britishers enacted the now-superseded laws to strengthen and protect their rule and the purpose was to punish, not to render justice as they treated the Indians as slaves. “We are going to bring changes in both these fundamental aspects. And, the soul of these three new laws will be to protect all the rights enshrined in the Constitution to the Indian citizens. The objective 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,” the Home Minister reiterated.

Hence, one should take Shah’s statement in the Lok Sabha on face value. He explained how these 1860 laws made by the British Parliament were administered till date in the country’s criminal justice system. Now, the three new laws will imbibe the Indian soul to bring in a big change in the country’s criminal justice system. The British laws on heinous crimes like murder or offence against women were placed very low and the actions like treason, robbery and attack on government officials were kept above these. And, his government is changing this approach and the first chapter in these new laws will be on crimes against women and children, Shah said. None should forget the growing atrocities against women and girls across the country and the conviction rate for these crimes is very disturbing. That resulted in the crime graph shooting up as the laws lacked teeth to take such heinous crimes to logical conclusions. According to him, the second chapter is set to deal with murder/homicide and criminality with the human body, more stringently. “We have brought this law by taking a very principled decision of bringing the citizen at the centre instead of governance,” the Home Minister said. However, reservations arise on this law as the punishment is stringent, and if one is proven guilty even the death sentence cannot be ruled out.

But, the government justifies its decision to bring in these laws. It believed to have held extensive consultations with all who matter in framing laws. Shsh said that he had written letters to the Supreme Court (SC) judges and the High Court (HC) Chief Justices in 2019, besides to all the law universities across the country. This was followed by letters to members of Parliament (MPs), Chief Ministers, Governors, and Administrators in the following year. After such extensive consultations, his government has begun the process to make it a law today. He further claimed that 18 States, 6 Union Territories, the SC, 16 HCs, 5 Judicial Academies, 22 Law Universities, 142 MPs, about 270 MLAs, and the public have given their suggestions regarding these new laws. Shah said that for the past four years, these laws were discussed in depth and at length holding as many as 158 meetings.

Against that backdrop, it would be unfair on any section of society to give any sort of colour – political or communal – for the satisfaction of their constituents. These laws and much more need to be amended and replaced as they are all framed by the colonial Britishers with ulterior motives to ill-treat Indians, whom they ruled over 300 years. And the Opposition parties, which quite often claim that they are more patriotic and nationalistic than the present dispensation, should not oppose for the opposition’s sake and ensure the smooth passage of these bills, which bolster our criminal judicial system and ensure quick and decisive justice to 140 crore Indians.