Amit Shah, Union Home Minister of India, introduces redrafted criminal bills in Lok Sabha. According to the Minister who presented the bills during the Winter Session of Parliament in New Delhi, the new criminal bills reflect revisions recommended by a legislative committee.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah tabled three redrafted bills in the Lok Sabha on December 12, 2023, to replace current British-era criminal laws, following the withdrawal of three bills introduced in August. He stated that the reintroduced bills differ in only five provisions.
“Grammar and language errors have been fixed.” The standing committee thoroughly studied the bills. Speaker Om Birla said 12 hours would be allotted for discussion.
Redrafted Criminal Bills: Looking at the changes
Under the Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita Bill (BNSS), 2023, which seeks to replace the Indian Penal Code of 1860, the definition of a terrorist act has been expanded to include “economic security” and “damage or destruction of any property in India or in a foreign country used or intended to be used for the defense of India.”.
The criminal bill retains the death penalty as a punishment. In its report tabled on November 10, the parliamentary committee said it had received several representations to abolish the death penalty but left the decision to the government.
Damage to the monetary stability of India by way of production, smuggling, or circulation of counterfeit Indian paper currency, coins, or any other material has also been added as a terrorist offense.
The Bill in its earlier form, which was introduced in Parliament on August 11, had for the first time defined terrorism in the general law. However, specific legislation—the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967—exists.
In its previous form, submitted to Parliament on August 11, the criminal bills identified terrorism for the first time in general law, even though a particular statute—the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967—exists.
The new bill adds the caveat that an officer not below the rank of Superintendent of Police shall decide whether to register the case under this Sanhita or the UAPA.
Rape and Mental Health Provisions edited in redrafted Bill
In cases of rape, printing or publishing any matter relating to court proceedings without permission has been made a punishable offense with imprisonment for two years. The judgments of the High Courts and the Supreme Court have been exempted.
The earlier bill had made the publication of the names of rape victims a punishable offense. The term “mental illness” is now replaced by “unsound mind” in the criminal bills.
Causing harm to a woman’s mental health has been made a felony under Section 85 of the Bill, which deals with cruelty by a husband or a relative of the husband.
The Bill defines cruelty against a woman for the first time as “any wilful conduct of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to the woman’s life, limb, or health (whether mental or physical); or harassment of the woman where such harassment is to coerce her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or a person related to her to meet.
The minimum sentence of seven years in jail for mob lynching has been replaced with life imprisonment, although the highest penalty remains death. A “child” is defined in the criminal bills as anyone under the age of 18.
New Bills set to be law?
The Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023, and the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill, 2023, which seek to replace the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, respectively, were introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 11.
The Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill, 2023, and the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita Bill, 2023, will now take their place. On August 18, the previous criminal bills were referred to the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs for review.