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When the new criminal laws come into force

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The three new criminal laws introduced by the BJP government, which overhauls the country's criminal legal system, have come into effect from July 1. Indian Penal Code (IPC), Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC)) and Indian Evidence Act have been replaced by new laws namely Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), the Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), and the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam (BSA) respectively. The country's first FIR according to BNS has been registered against Pankaj Kumar, a migrant worker from Bihar, on charge of illegally selling things on a pushcart under the bridge at the New Delhi railway station. Meanwhile, old cases will be litigated according to the old law. The second Modi government, which came forward to reform the law, stated that the law that came into existence during the British colonial rule is being replaced by a law with a touch of Indian justice. The Union government did not allow any further debate on the laws brought in without any discussion and active opposition with an increased majority. Given the Modi government's inclination to proceed with everything as a continuation of the previous government, such a policy is not expected from the present government.

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Home Minister Amit Shah said that the new criminal laws uphold the Indian concept of justice instead of punishment. However, the opposition alleges that the legislation, which erased colonial-era terminology, deleted 19 old sections and added 20 new offences, did not take due account of the nation's legal system. The merits cited of the new system include zero FIR, smooth flow of legal proceedings, reduction of paper work like online complaints and e-summons, increased speed of legal proceedings, new sections on marriage promise fraud, and terrorism. Observers point out that it is not a coincidence that new legal system have come into existence in such a way that Hindutva may become communalist when the effects of colonial rule are removed on issues such as treason, lynching, and intermarriage. Their concern is that, whatever the law may be, many provisions will open the door to the possibility of enforcement of its own will, from the court benches to those who take the law into their own hands. Earlier, the triple talaq law, which was introduced with the claim of saving Muslim women, resulted in a new provision to punish Muslim youth. In the current environment of the country where the party leader and party interests are idolized, there is a doubt that the new law can always become a way to completely silence the opposition voices.

Also read: Criminal Law Bills: Sugar-coated bitter pills

Changing the legal system of a nation should be done after providing adequate awareness and training to the citizens, legislative systems, and institutions. There is criticism that the claim about the electronic case management system has not reached anywhere in practice and is limited to paper. There are concerns that the courts already have crores of cases pending. The application of old and new laws simultaneously will make legal proceedings more complex and lead to delays. Pointing out that the law passed by the old government should be implemented with the approval of the new government after taking over, the Delhi Bar Council asked for the postponement of the implementation of the criminal laws. According to them, some sections of the new law are against the constitutional principles and the Supreme Court judgment. The period of police custody has been extended from 15 days to one to three months. The Bar Council points out several flaws like empowering the police to seize a person without the permission of the court, provision for solitary confinement

that the Supreme Court has ruled that solitary confinement is a violation of human rights and many such things are not compatible with democratic governance. Prominent Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaisingh warns that the country will wake up to police raj after the criminal laws come into force. Her observation is that the new laws are expanding the power of the police. Another lawyer and politician, Kapil Sibal, sees the new law as an increased possibility of using terrorism laws for political ends. Everyone outside the ruling party is worried that this will be a routine move by the central government to suppress dissent. The government was not ready to respect the demand to implement the law after removing this concern and confusion. Now if it can be proved through practice, then the claim that the new system is for justice will be proven true. Otherwise, this so-called reform for decolonization will turn out to be a lame and humiliating attempt.


Also read: New Criminal laws: will they improve India's criminal justice system?

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