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India gets new criminal laws as 3 bills replacing colonial-era codes receives President's nod

On Monday, the President of India, Droupadi Murmu, granted assent to the three criminal law reform Bills that replace the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, and Indian Evidence Act.

India gets new criminal laws as 3 bills replacing colonial-era codes receives President's nod snt
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First Published Dec 25, 2023, 7:32 PM IST

In a historic move, India has witnessed significant changes in its criminal justice system with the enactment of three crucial bills – Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita (formerly Indian Penal Code), Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita (formerly Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC)), and Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Sanhita (formerly Indian Evidence Act). The bills received assent from President Droupadi Murmu on December 25, marking a pivotal moment in the country's legal landscape. However, these legislative changes have not been without controversy, as concerns regarding potential abuses of police power and threats to human rights have been raised.

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The journey of these bills commenced on August 11 when they were first introduced in the Parliament. After extensive deliberations, the bills were passed by the Lok Sabha on December 20 and the Rajya Sabha on December 21, ultimately receiving presidential assent on December 25. Notably, the passage of these bills was marked by the suspension of 49 Members of Parliament from both houses, adding a layer of contention to the legislative process.

Key Provisions of the Legislation

  1. Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita (BNS2):

    • Sections: The new penal code comprises 358 sections, marking a substantial revision of its predecessor.
    • Sedition Redefined: The term 'sedition' has undergone a significant change, shifting from 'Rajdroh' (against the government) to 'Deshdroh' (against the nation). This alteration reflects an attempt to bring clarity and precision to the charges related to anti-national activities.
    • Organized Crime: A notable addition to the legislation is the incorporation of 'organized crime' as an offense. This includes a range of criminal activities such as kidnapping, extortion, and cyber-crimes committed on behalf of a crime syndicate.
  2. Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita:

    • Sections: The revised Code of Criminal Procedure boasts 531 sections, showcasing a comprehensive approach to criminal proceedings.
    • Definition of Terrorism: Home Minister Amit Shah emphasized that the new bills provide a clear definition of terrorism, closing potential legal loopholes. This move is aimed at strengthening the nation's capacity to combat terrorism effectively.
  3. Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Sanhita:

    • Sections: The updated Indian Evidence Act comprises 170 sections, streamlining the rules governing evidence in legal proceedings.
    • Retention of Section 377: Despite recommendations from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, the controversial Section 377, criminalizing sexual offenses against men and transgender individuals, has been retained.

The passage of these bills has not been immune to criticism, particularly surrounding concerns about the potential misuse of police force and its implications for human rights. Home Minister Amit Shah, however, defended the legislation in Parliament, asserting that the bills aim to eliminate the remnants of India's colonial past and slavery. He emphasized that the reforms align with constitutional principles and highlighted the groundbreaking inclusion of a clear definition of terrorism.

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As the Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita, and Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Sanhita officially become laws, India is poised for a new era in criminal justice. The impact of these legislative changes will unfold in the coming months, with the Home Ministry expected to notify the dates from which these acts will come into effect. The nation will be closely watching how these reforms strike a balance between the imperative of maintaining law and order and safeguarding individual liberties.

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