Three Bills which could presumably transform the criminal laws in the country were introduced in the Monsoon session of Parliament. The Bills -- the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita to replace the Indian Penal Code; the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita in place of the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill to substitute the Indian Evidence Act -- have been sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. Will the Bills in its final draft hold the potential to shape the future landscape of criminal law? One has to wait and watch. However, the very names have ruffled many feathers with leaders from the South firing the first salvo, seeing it as a bid to impose Hindi.
The Nyaya Sanhita has 356 sections as against 511 in the 163-year-old Indian Penal Code crafted by Lord Macaulay. Almost 80% of the provisions contained in the IPC have been retained, making it not a new law, but old wine in new bottle as some experts point out. In the case of the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, the sections have gone up to 533 from the 478 in Cr. PC. In the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill too, there are 170 sections compared to the 167 in the Evidence Act.
Legal experts opine that the Bills have made some hits, but missed the bus on many grounds. The Nyaya Sanhita gives priority to crimes against women and children. A new offence has been defined in section 69 of the new Bill that deals with sex with a woman by deceitful means or on the pretext of false promise of marriage, employment, promotion, inducement or marriage after suppressing identity. To tackle the most barbaric act of raping a minor, capital punishment has been prescribed. Yet another change sending out a strong message is the recommendation of capital punishment for mob-lynching, a heinous crime that has seen phenomenal rise in the last few years. There is relief for the undertrials who, in the present context, are the worst victims of delayed justice. The new provision says that those undertrials, who have completed one-third of the maximum punishment they could have received, can avail bail.
The much-publicised merit of the proposed law is stated to be the removal of the offence of sedition. However, the ghost of section 124 A of the IPC -- sedition -- has re-appeared in another form under section 150 of the new Bill which envisages stringent provision for exciting or attempt to excite secession, armed rebellion, subversive activities; encouraging the feelings of separatism, endangering the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. Such conduct is punishable with imprisonment ranging from 7 years to life imprisonment. This is nothing but reappearance of the colonial law in another form.
One of the most dangerous provisions envisaged in the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita is the permission for the police custody for a period up to 90 days, a huge increase from the current 15-day limit. Such detention is presently permitted for offences punishable with death or life imprisonment. But the increase in detention in police custody up to 60 days or 90 days, depending on the nature of the crime, will impinge on the rights of the accused. Since the Bills are meant to impact every citizen in the country, a wider consultation is needed before they take a final shape. The focus should be on speeding up justice delivery system.