Congress demands wider consultations on Bills replacing criminal laws

New Delhi: Kapil Sibal alleges that if such laws become a reality, they would “imperil the future” of country

BY | Sunday, 13 August, 2023

The Congress on Sunday accused Home Minister Amit Shah of “misleading” Parliament and the people about certain provisions in the three new bills that seek to overhaul the country’s criminal justice system and demanded wider consultations on the proposed legislations involving experts and public.

The opposition party also alleged that these bills, introduced by Shah in Lok Sabha on the last day of the Monsoon session on Friday, were brought by the government in a “clandestine, hidden and opaque manner without any consultations”.

In a statement, Congress general secretary Randeep Surjewala claimed that without any prior intimation or public consultation or inviting suggestions from legal experts, jurists, criminologists and other stakeholders, the Modi government introduced the three bills from its “black magic hat” on August 11.

“The introductory remarks of the Home Minister gave away the fact that Amit Shah is himself out of depth, ignorant and oblivious to the entire exercise,” the Congress leader said.

“Other than some credit seeking and point scoring in desperation, a hidden exercise, away from the public glare or stakeholders’ suggestions and wisdom, cannot serve the public purpose of reforming the criminal law structure of the country,” Surjewala said.

After an extensive “scrutiny” of existing and proposed laws, he said the detailed definitions of terrorism and terrorist acts already exist since the time of Indira Gandhi and “the definition of terrorists in the IPC is an eyewash”.

On the issue of FIR against mob lynching, claimed to be brought for the first time, he alleged that Shah has given a “huge concession” to mob lynchers.

“The BJP government has watered down the lowest punishment for mob lynching to seven years (under BNS, 2023), whereas the lowest punishment under IPC for such crime was life imprisonment,” he claimed.

Surjewala claimed that the issue of sexual assault on minors, all provisions already exist and so does the punishment of 20 years for gang rape.

Shah had introduced the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill, 2023; Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) Bill, 2023; and Bharatiya Sakshya (BS) Bill, 2023 that will replace the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Criminal Procedure Act, 1898, and Indian Evidence Act, 1872, respectively.

The minister also urged Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla to refer the three bills for examination by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs.

Surjewala countered Shah’s remarks on the changes made through the bills and alleged that he had “lied and misled” on many points of the proposed legislation and accused the government of restructuring the nation’s entire criminal law apparatus in a “clandestine, hidden and opaque manner”.

“While the Bills have been referred to the Select Committee of Parliament, the Bills and their provisions must be thrown open for a larger public debate by judges, lawyers, jurists, criminologists, reformers, stakeholders and the general public in order to stay away from the trap of bulldozing the entire criminal law structure without discussion that is so ingrained in the DNA of the BJP government,” he said.

“We hope that better sense will prevail,” he added.

Congress MP Manish Tewari has also called for wider consultations on the bills.

“Some of these Acts, especially CrPC, have state amendments – given that law and order is a state subject. Each provision in each of these enactments has been extensively litigated over the past 150-100 years and the interpretation of each provision has been settled by judicial pronouncements by the privy council, federal court, Supreme Court, various high courts and in some cases even by subordinate courts,” Tewari said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The three new Bills introduced by Shah and referred to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs need to be examined critically, provision by provision, in the light of judicial pronouncements interpreting them, he said.

“It, therefore, is imperative that a Joint Committee of Parliament consisting of lawyers, retired judges, former police officials/civil servants, jurists and members active in human, women and civil rights movements should be constituted by Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar to examine all these three bills very very critically,” Tewari said on Saturday.

These bills have serious implications on the fundamental rights enshrined in Part -III of the Constitution of India especially the Golden Triangle of rights – Article-14, 19 and 21, he asserted.

Among other things, the three Bills propose to repeal the sedition law and introduce a new provision with a wider definition of the offence.

Besides defining terrorism for the first time, the changes aimed at transforming the country’s criminal justice system include provisions for maximum capital punishment for mob lynching, sexual assault of minors, maximum imprisonment of 20 years for all types of gangrape and community service as one of the punishments for first-time petty offences.

Former Congress leader Kapil Sibal also alleged that the government talks about ending colonial-era laws but wants to impose “dictatorship” through such legislation.

The Rajya Sabha MP and former law minister called on the government to take back the three bills, 1872, alleging that if such laws become a reality, they would “imperil the future” of the country.

Read more: Purpose of 3 Bills not punishment but justice: Amit Shah

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