Sedition Act rebranded: new name, no capital punishment but longer sentence

A new offense on acts of secession, armed rebellion, subversive activities, separatist activities, or endangering the sovereignty or unity and integrity of India has been added to the revised laws

Union Home Minister Amit Shah (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @Anirudh_Astro)
Union Home Minister Amit Shah (Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ @Anirudh_Astro)

NH Digital

The union home minister Amit Shah introduced three bills in the Lok Sabha to replace the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act. All three Bills have been referred to the Standing Committee for review.

The 1860 Indian Penal Code will be replaced by the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita; the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita will replace the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill will replace Indian Evidence Act.

"From August 16, the road from 75 to 100 years of Independence will begin. The PM had vowed to end the mindset of slavery. We will finish IPC (1857), CrPC (1858), Indian Evidence Act (1872) - which were made by the British. We will bring three new laws in their place to ensure the protection of rights. It will aim to give justice not punishment," said Shah.

Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, which will replace the Indian Penal Code will now have 356 sections. Earlier, there were 511 sections and 175 sections have been amended. Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita has 533 sections, while CrPC has 484 sections and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill has 170 sections, while the Indian Evidence Act has 167 sections.

The sedition law (Section 124 A of IPC) has been repealed and replaced with a section on acts endangering sovereignty, unity, and Integrity of India (Section 150). A new offence on acts of secession, armed rebellion, subversive activities, separatist activities or endangering sovereignty or unity and integrity of India has been added in the revised laws.

A new section has been added under ‘Acts endangering sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. It has been defined as “Whoever, purposely or knowingly, by words either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or by electronic communication or by use of financial mean, or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite, secession or armed rebellion or subversive activities, or encourages feelings of separatist activities or endangers sovereignty or unity and integrity of India; or indulges in or commits any such act shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine”.

It has been explained as, “Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures, or administrative or other action of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means without exciting or attempting to excite the activities referred to in this section”.

The new provision brings under its sweep aiding through financial means and acts of “subversive activities”, or those encouraging “feelings of separatist activities.”

Article 150 proposes punishment options, including "imprisonment for life" or "imprisonment which may extend to seven years," along with fines. In contrast, Section 124A of the IPC specifies punishment options of "imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added," or "imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine." Section 150 enhances the alternative punishment to 7 years imprisonment from 3 years imprisonment under Section 124A.

Shah, said in the house, that the new IPC bill has a special focus on crimes on women and children. There is also a provision of capital punishment in mob lynching cases. Offences have been made gender neutral. In order to deal effectively with the problem of organised crimes and terrorist activities, new offences of terrorist acts and organised crime have been added with deterrent punishments.

Additionally, community service will be one of the punishments for petty offences, while fines and punishment for various offences have also been enhanced.

“The three new laws aim to provide justice. Punishment will be given to create a sentiment of stopping crime," added Shah.

In cases of sexual violence against women, the video-recording of statement of survivors has been made compulsory, said Shah.

“The maximum limit of 180-days has been fixed to file a chargesheet. The police cannot take an indefinite plea that investigation is on. Police will get 90 days to file chargesheet, another 90 days can be granted by court, but it cannot exceed that,” the home minister said.

In March 2020, the Centre had constituted a Criminal Law Reforms Committee to make suggestions to revise IPC, CrPC and the Indian Evidence Act 1872. The Committee was headed by Professor Dr Ranbir Singh, the then Vice Chancellor of National Law University Delhi and comprised Professor Dr GS Bajpai, the then Registrar of NLU-D, Professor Dr Balraj Chauhan the VC of DNLU, Senior Advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, and GP Thareja, former District and Sessions Judge, Delhi.

In February 2022, the Committee submitted a report to the Government, after taking suggestions from the public. In April 2022, the Law Ministry had told the Rajya Sabha that the government has undertaken a process of comprehensive review of the criminal laws.

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