Growing demand for government to defer amended criminal laws

Government appears in no mood for further consultations on the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Suraksha Sanhita and the Sakshya Adhiniyam

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh (photo: PTI)
Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh (photo: PTI)

NH Digital

There is growing demand for the government to defer the date (1 July) on which the three criminal laws amended in 2023 to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) and the Evidence Act are to become applicable. Former civil servants have joined legal experts and the opposition to impress upon the government the need for more consultations and address the concerns of the people.

The amendments were pushed through Parliament last year without adequate deliberation, when as many as 146 opposition MPs were absent from Parliament, having been suspended by the chair. The new amended laws seeking to replace the “colonial” laws in force since the 19th century are said to have retained 80-85 per cent of the provisions from the colonial times.

However, the new provisions provided in the amended Acts, experts have warned, can potentially turn India into a police state. Former civil servants too have now lent their voice to the demand, urging the government to convene an all-party meeting to develop a national consensus on how to take the new laws forward.

The Constitution Conduct Group (CCG), an organisation of retired civil servants having served in all-India and Central government services in an open letter issued this week urged the government, political parties and MPs to ensure “that these new laws do not hollow our constitutional rights and jeopardise our democracy”. The CCG in its open letter points out that the new laws are vulnerable to rampant political abuse…to dissent in any form and any source. 

“These three criminal laws are second only to the Constitution of India in their importance in the daily lives of common people in the country, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised sections. Yet these three new complex criminal laws, which replace the entire legal edifice of criminal justice, were rushed through parliamentary approval without having to face critical questioning by the opposition in a public debate. As a result, a number of valid and important questions about the laws remain unanswered,” the CCG stated.

Pointing out that the core concerns are yet to be addressed by the Union government, the former civil servants identified three of them:

1.  The new laws enable governments of the day (whether at the Union or state levels) to immobilise the practice of democracy by over-broad criminalisation of legitimate, non-violent dissent and opposition against the governments, the ruling parties and forces that back them.

2.  The new laws can potentially terrorise innocent civilians and honest public servants because they put in the hands of the government arbitrary and virtually unlimited power to selectively arrest, detain, prosecute and convict practically anyone they choose, including by branding them as terrorists and  as anti-national.

3.  The new laws in effect regularise extraordinary powers which should normally be available only in legitimate states of Emergency as already provided in the Constitution. The effect of these laws, as currently approved, is that, once they come into effect, India will no longer be a functioning democracy.

Congress MP and general-secretary (communications) Jairam Ramesh on Saturday said in an X post, “The three new laws are to come into effect from 1 July 2024. The Indian National Congress is of the firm opinion that this date should be deferred so as to enable a thorough review and re-examination by the reconstituted Standing Committee on Home Affairs which should have more extensive and meaningful consultations with various legal experts and organisations who have serious concerns on the three laws as they stand - thereafter by the 18th Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha as well.”

“The three far-reaching bills had been bulldozed through Parliament without proper debate and discussion, and at a time when 146 MPs had been suspended from the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Earlier the Bills had been bulldozed through the Standing Committee on Home Affairs without detailed interactions with stakeholders across the country and completely ignoring the written and very detailed dissent notes of a number of MPs belonging to different political parties, including the Indian National Congress, who were members of the Standing Committee,” Ramesh claimed.

The President of India had given her assent to the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 and the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam, 2023 on 25 December 2023.

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