The government on Friday introduced three bills in the Lok Sabha to replace laws that form the backbone of criminal jurisprudence in India: the Indian Penal Code (1860), the Indian Evidence Act (1872), and the Criminal Procedure Act (1898). With Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bharatiya Sakshya (BS), and Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) that would respectively respect the colonial-era statutes, the government aims to achieve a transformation in the criminal justice system and ensure delivery of justice within a maximum of three years.

The three proposed statutes were referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee that would hold exhaustive deliberations and is expected to table the report by the next session of Parliament.

Panch pruns

The introduction of the bills took most parliamentarians by surprise as they were added to Friday’s list of business through a supplementary agenda. Introducing the bills, Minister Amit Shah said the bills fulfill one of the “panch pruns” (five vows) announced by the Prime Minister on August 15, 2022, to “erase all the signs of British slavery”.

“From 1860 to 2023, the country’s criminal justice system functioned as per the laws made by the British. With these three laws, there will be a major transformation in the criminal justice system,” he said.

An important provision underlined by the Home Minister in the BNS Bill concerns “repealing” sedition. “We are repealing sedition,” said the Home Minister.

However, the bill shows that the much-debated provision, Section 124A of the IPC, pertaining to sedition as an offence has been re-invented. Section 150 of the BNS Bill deals with the offence of endangering the sovereignty unity and integrity of India but it does not use the word sedition. It reads: “Whoever, purposely or knowingly, by words, either spoken or written or by signs, or by visible representation, or by electronic communication or by use of financial means, or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite, secession or armed rebellion or subversive activities or encourages feelings of separatist activities or endangers sovereignty or unity and integrity of India; or indulges in or commits such acts shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.”

The BNS bill has new provisions for the death penalty for raping a minor below the age of 18 years, sexual exploitation of a woman after hiding her identity, punishments for mob lynching, and 10 years imprisonment for crimes against children, among others.

Simultaneously, the bill proposes first-time community service as punishment for petty offences.

“Offences against women and children, murder, and offences against the State have been given precedence. The various offences have been made gender neutral, the statement and object of the BNS Bill said.

Under the BNSS Bill, to stop the political use of punishment waivers by governments, a new provision has been made that death sentences can only be converted to life imprisonment, and life imprisonment can be pardoned only within seven years of punishment. Shah referred to the recent release of criminal-politician Anand Mohan in Bihar and said provisions have been made to ensure that those with political influence do not escape the law.

The use of forensic science to increase convictions in cases is also in focus, the Minister said. “The aim is to take the conviction rate to 90 per cent,” he said.