Rights, not punishment, in focus as govt revamps India's British-era criminal laws

Changes suggested are landmark if implemented in letter and spirit


The government, on Friday, said there were glaring inadequacies in the Indian criminal justice system that saw citizens running from pillar to post for justice, suffering inordinate delays in courts, poor conviction rates, over-crowding in jails, and even false cases being slapped while powerful went scot-free many a time.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah explained that the existing Indian Penal Code, CrPC and Indian Evidence Act that have defined the Indian criminal justice system so far have inbuilt inadequacies deliberately created by the British raj to protect their interests. The aberrations are beyond correction and hence required a complete repeal. This prompted the union home ministry to submit three bills repealing IPC, 1860; CrPC 1898 (1973) and Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and introduce Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita; Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita and Bhartiya Sakshya Adhiniyam in Lok Sabha.

The bills have been sent to the parliamentary standing committee for further discussion. It offers a glimmer of hope saying the rights of citizens will become the focus, instead of “punishment’’. The focus is also on modernisation, the use of technology and a speedy justice delivery system from policing to courts to completing investigations and trials in a time-bound manner.

The changes suggested are landmark if implemented in letter and spirit and can reduce “the jungle of paperwork’’ delaying justice to the citizen. Chargesheets to be filed by the police within 90 days; courts to pronounce judgement within 30 days to a maximum period of 60 days; a maximum of two adjournments by the court, are some of the key provisions in the revised laws that aim to complete the entire process of delivery of justice between six months to one year in the country.

Civil servants will also no longer be insulated against penal action if the competent authority, like state government or central ministry, delays action against them. Under the changed penal provisions, the competent authority has to take a decision on sanction for prosecution within 120 days against civil servants, failing which the investigating agency will proceed in the case.

Another key change suggested is the concept of zero FIR and e-FIR which allows the victim to register an FIR without worrying about the jurisdiction of the police station concerned. The home ministry also promises that cases of people being picked up by the police and kept at undisclosed locations will be a thing of the past as state governments will designate a police officer in every district and every police station to give a “notice of the arrest” of any person.

Police officers will inform the victim of the progress of the investigation within 90 days, including through digital means.

While the proposed penal code has struck down the controversial sedition law, which makes disaffection against the government a punishable offence, it makes secessionist acts “against the country” punishable keeping national security paramount. It defines secessionist acts as “armed rebellion, subversive activities, separatist activities or acts threatening the sovereignty or unity and integrity of India.’’ The proposed penal code also defines terrorism for the first time (so far it was defined only under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act).

A new offence has been added of making false promises of marriage, employment and promotion or fake disclosure of identity as a basis for a sexual relationship. Under the proposed changes, there will be a provision of 20 years of imprisonment or life imprisonment in all cases of gang-rape. But in the case of girls below 18 years of age, provision has been made for life imprisonment or death penalty. There is also a new provision for mob lynching, including crimes related to murder on the basis of race, caste, community etc., for which a provision of minimum seven years imprisonment or life imprisonment or death penalty has been made. There is also a new provision for snatching.

The bills were drafted after consultations with 18 states, six Union territories, the Supreme Court, 16 High Courts, five Judicial Academies, 22 law universities and suggestions from 142 Members of Parliament besides others.

It is learnt that state governments of Kerala and West Bengal did not fully participate in the consultations.

Home ministry officials stressed the proposed laws are futuristic keeping in mind the dependency on technology for investigations and the use of digital medium by the accused. Under the proposed law, electronic and digital record, e-mail, server logs, documents available on the computer, smartphone or laptop messages, website, locational evidence, mail messages available on digital devices are all defined as documentary evidence.

Technology will also be used by the police to conduct search and seizure operations and the entire process of police searching or seizing any property will be videographed through electronic devices. The first response in a crime scene will be a forensic team along with the police and necessary infrastructure in the states and UTs will be created within five years, said government officials.

The powers of remission have also been rationalised as death sentence can be commuted to only life term and life term to seven years jail term while the reduction of a seven-year jail term can be turned into three years by the courts. There are also new provisions suggesting holding trials in the absence of a proclaimed offender and confiscation of properties of the accused if they are obtained from criminal activities. The bills, once passed by Parliament, will become a law and will have a bearing on ongoing trials and all new cases in the country, but will not be retrospective in nature.


​Bhartiya Nagrik Surkasha Sanhita

• It will have 533 sections (in place of 478 sections of CrPC)
• 160 sections have been amended.
• Nine new sections have been added and
• Nine sections have been repealed/deleted.

Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita

• It will have 356 sections (in place of 511 sections of IPC)
• A total of 175 sections have been amended.
• Eight new sections have been added and
• 22 sections have been repealed/deleted.
• Bhartiya Sakshya Adhiniyam
• It will have 170 sections (in place of the original 167 sections)
• A total of 23 sections have been amended,
• One new section has been added and 5 sections have been repealed/deleted.

Following Colonial words have been removed

- 'Parliament of the United Kingdom',
- 'Provincial Act',
- 'London Gazette',
- 'Jury', 'Barrister' 'Lahore', 'Commonwealth,'
- 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland,'
- 'Her Majesty's Government,'
- 'Possession of the British Crown'
- 'Court of Justice in England',
- The words 'Her Majesty's Dominions' have been omitted from the Act. 

📣 The Week is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@TheWeekmagazine) and stay updated with the latest headlines