Lok Sabha passes three Criminal Law Amendment Bills in absence of 97 suspended MPs

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The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita and the Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill in the absence of 97 opposition MPs who are under suspension.

The bills aim to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Indian Evidence Act.

The three bills to reform criminal laws were first introduced in Lok Sabha on August 11 during the monsoon session of Parliament as Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023.

They were subsequently referred to a department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs headed by Brij Lal for further examination which submitted its reports on November 10.

Pertinently, instead of amending the bills as per the committee’s suggestions, the Central government on August 11 chose to withdraw the bills. In a statement, it was mentioned that the bills will be reintroduced after making changes recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

The following day, the government reintroduced the latest iteration of the bills. Union Home Minister Amit Shah insisted that the bills were withdrawn and reintroduced to save effort that would have gone towards passing separate amendments.

The Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita now comprises 358 sections. The first version of this bill had 356 sections with 175 sourced from the Indian Penal Code (IPC) with alterations, and by which 22 Sections were proposed to be repealed, and 8 new Sections introduced.

Notably, although the offence of ‘sedition’, which was kept in abeyance by the Supreme Court, has not been retained, a very similar provision has been added to the proposed legislation. Section 152 punishes acts ‘endangering sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.’

Organised crime, terrorism, and murder by a group of five or more on the basis caste, language or personal belief have been added as offences.

The Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita now has 531 Sections. The first bill consisted of 533 Sections, out of which 150 were sourced from the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) after revisions, 22 Sections of the earlier CrPC were proposed to be repealed, and 9 Sections were to be newly added.

The proposed code has ushered in new concepts like timelines for mercy petitions, a scheme for witness protection and permitting electronic modes for recording statements and collecting evidence. For offences punishable with imprisonment of seven years or more, forensic investigation has been made mandatory.

Another significant provision expands the scope of summary trials, specifically in cases where the punishment does not exceed three years. This streamlining of legal processes is aimed at expediting justice and ensuring a more efficient judicial system.

Moreover, the proposed law introduces stringent timelines for various procedural aspects. For instance, it mandates that the police must present their challan before the court within seven days of the first hearing. Furthermore, the legislation stipulates that investigation must conclude within 90 days of filing a chargesheet. Notably, judgments reserved are required to be pronounced within 30 days.

The Bharatiya Sakshya Bill remains unchanged and has 170 Sections. Of these, 23 Sections have been sourced from the Indian Evidence Act with amendments, 1 Section is entirely new, and 5 Sections are proposed to be removed.

Notably, a few MPs, including Ramesh Bidhuri and Nishikant Dubey questioned the Supreme Court’s reading down of Section 377 of IPC and called for its reintroduciton. However, no such amendment was notified by the Home Minister.

Addressing the Lok Sabha when the first iteration of the bills was introduced, Amit Shah had stated that the process of drafting the three laws involved consultations with 18 states, 7 Union Territories, judges from the Supreme Court and High Courts, along with 22 law universities, 142 MPs, 270 MLAs, and numerous members of the public. This effort apparently spanned four years and encompassed a total of 158 meetings.

Before the passage of the bills today in absence of 97 MPs who have been suspended this session, Shah reiterated his stance from a September speech that the proposed overhaul is not punitive but focused on ensuring justice for all.

In response to concerns that the overhaul will transform India into a police state, the Minister argued that while some additional powers are being granted to the police, certain existing powers are also being restricted.

“It is to avoid becoming a police state that these laws are being passed,” Shah maintained.

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