‘Sedition to be treason’: Amit Shah explains proposed changes to criminal laws

On Wednesday, the Lok Sabha approved three bills related to the country\’s criminal justice system. These newly endorsed bills—Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita, 2023; Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second) Sanhita, 2023; and the Bharatiya Sakshya (Second) Bill, 2023—will supersede the colonial Indian Penal Code (IPC), Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), and Evidence Act. Union Home Minister Amit Shah, addressing a parliamentary debate on the bills, asserted that the current laws were crafted to protect the wealth and authority of British rulers.

Shah highlighted significant changes proposed by these bills, stressing the need to file charge sheets within 180 days and for magistrates to take cognizance within 14 days. He declared the termination of the British-imposed law of treason, underscoring the paramount importance of the nation\’s security. While affirming the right to express dissent against the government, Shah cautioned that interference with the country\’s flag, security, or property would lead to imprisonment.

The bills substitute the Indian Penal Code with Bharatiya Nyaya Samhita, the Criminal Procedure Code with Nagarik Suraksha Samhita, and the Indian Evidence Act with Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam.

Shah elucidated that these laws aim to shift the focus from safeguarding government treasures to addressing crimes against the human body, securing national borders, and dealing with electoral offenses. The proposed bills also seek to redefine terrorism in a modern context, marking the first attempt to criminalize terrorism.

According to Shah, the new legislation transforms sedition into treason, concentrating on activities against the integrity, sovereignty, and unity of the nation. He assured that criticizing the government or its functionaries would remain permissible under the proposed laws.

The final laws were shaped by considering 3,200 suggestions from diverse stakeholders, including Supreme Court judges, high court judges, governors, civil servants, police officials, MPs, CMs, collectorates, and MLAs.

Shah highlighted alterations in the Criminal Procedure Code, Indian Penal Code, and Indian Evidence Act, emphasizing an increase in sections, the addition of new crimes, extension of imprisonment durations, elevation of fines, and the introduction of gender-neutral provisions.

The new laws establish a Director of Prosecution in districts and states, enforce police accountability, and mandate informing victims about investigation progress within 90 days. Provisions aligned with the POCSO Act address sexual assault on minors, with stringent penalties for rape and gang rape.

Moreover, the legislation introduces Trial in Absentia, allowing the prosecution of individuals hiding abroad. Shah underscored its significance in expediting trials for cases involving individuals in other countries, such as those related to the Mumbai bomb blast.

Under the new law, only the convicted will have the right to file a mercy petition, and Trial in Absentia includes provisions for seizing the properties of criminals.

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