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Revitalizing India's Legal Landscape: A Comprehensive Overview of New Criminal Codes

In a historic move aimed at transforming India's legal landscape, the government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has introduced revised versions of three pivotal legislations - the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), poised to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, set to replace the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, intended to supplant the venerable Evidence Act.

This transformative journey began with thorough scrutiny by a Parliamentary Standing Committee, ensuring that these legislative revisions, critical to the nation, underwent comprehensive examination. The recently enacted legislation will make acts of treason arising from armed revolution, destructive activities, and separatist endeavors illegal.

Shah mentioned that the finalized laws took into account 3,200 recommendations from various sources, including Supreme Court judges, high court judges, governors, civil servants, police service officials, Members of Parliament, Chief Ministers, collectorates, and Members of Legislative Assemblies.

A salient feature of the new codes lies in their meticulous preservation of much of the language and content from the original laws, with only a reordering of sections. Contrary to the assertions of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who claimed that the colonial imprint of the IPC, CrPC, and the Evidence Act has been replaced by a purely Indian legal framework, the new codes, upon closer examination, do not usher in groundbreaking changes in the fundamental aspects of policing, crime investigation, and trial procedures.

Shah emphasized liberating the populace from a colonial mindset, but the reality remains that these laws were originally formulated during the period of English rule, and until officially repealed, UK laws will persist in the country.

Despite these reservations, there are notable positive changes within the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS). Outdated provisions on sedition have been removed, acknowledging the evolving landscape of free expression, while mob lynching, inclusive of hate crimes, has been introduced as a separate offense. Nevertheless, concerns emerge regarding the inclusion of 'terrorism' within general penal law when it already falls under specialized legislation. The lack of clarity regarding police custody duration beyond the 15-day limit is another significant point requiring attention.

A pivotal focus of these legislative changes is the strategic inclusion of forensics in criminal proceedings. Offenses carrying a sentencing duration of more than seven years are now mandated to involve forensic services. Union Home Minister Amit Shah articulates that, under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these changes represent the first significant overhaul of the three laws governing India's criminal justice system, which has remained largely untouched for nearly 150 years. Shah asserts that the purpose of punishment is to deliver justice to the victim and set a precedent in society.

Crafted with an intrinsic 'Indian soul,' these laws are poised to bring about a substantial transformation in the nation's criminal justice system. The Modi government's unwavering policy of zero tolerance against terrorism is reflected in these legislative amendments, ensuring that perpetrators of terrorism cannot evade justice.

A departure from the antiquated laws that prioritized the protection of treasury and the British Crown, the new codes give precedence to crimes against women and children, offenses impacting the human body, national security, military-related crimes, electoral offenses, and tampering with currency and government stamps.

The Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) formerly consisted of 484 sections, but now it has been revised to include 531 sections. This includes 177 modified sections, the addition of 9 new sections, the incorporation of 39 new sub-sections, and the removal of 14 sections. Similarly, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has undergone changes from 511 to 358 sections.

This includes the addition of 21 new crimes, an extension of imprisonment duration in 41 crimes, an increase in fines for 82 crimes, the introduction of minimum punishment in 25 crimes, the inclusion of community service in 6 crimes, and the removal of 19 sections. The Indian Evidence Act now has 170 sections, with 24 sections being modified, two new sub-sections added, and 6 sections removed.

The legal reforms include the appointment of a Director of Prosecution at the district and state levels, responsible for determining the merit of an appeal case. Police accountability is established, requiring the maintenance of information on arrested individuals, with a designated officer overseeing this responsibility. The state is prohibited from withdrawing a case without hearing the victim, who must be informed about the investigation's progress within 90 days.

Provisions related to sexual assault on women under 18 align with the POCSO Act, preventing accused individuals from exploiting lenient penal code provisions. Mandatory life imprisonment or the death penalty is stipulated for the rape of minors, while gang rape carries a sentence of 20 years to life. The laws are made gender-neutral by including the trafficking of minor boys as a crime.

Acts such as using dynamite or poisonous gas against the nation are deemed terrorist activities. Any activity threatening the security of the Indian government, a state, or international government organizations is considered terrorism. Police must register an FIR within three days if a preliminary investigation indicates merit, and for cases with a punishment range of 3 to 7 years, registration must occur within 14 days. Medical reports of rape victims must be submitted within seven days.

Under the new law, only the convicted have the right to a mercy petition, excluding others. Those who show no remorse for their crimes are not entitled to mercy. Criminals will be punished, and their properties may be seized under Trial in Absentia provisions.

The introduction of Trial in Absentia allows for the prosecution of individuals involved in cases like the Mumbai bomb blast who are hiding in other countries. If they do not appear before the court within 90 days, a trial will proceed in their absence. A public prosecutor will be appointed for their prosecution, expediting the process of bringing them back and altering their status in the other country.

In a groundbreaking decision, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has entirely eliminated the section on sedition, replacing it with the more precise offense of treason. With the imminent implementation of these laws, India stands on the cusp of a new era in its justice system, one that promises to be more aligned with contemporary values and reflective of the nation's evolving ethos.

Written By: Samridhi Sharma, Chandigarh University
Author of book "Family law: An Overview To Hindu Law"
Email: [email protected]

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