Tuesday, July 16, 2024

For crime “defamation”, new Nyaya punishments


Prof Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu, Mahindra University, Hyderabad

Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha (Second)  Sanhita, 2023 has defined community service. The original Bill introduced the concept of ‘community service’ as a form of punishment for petty offences such as an attempt to commit suicide, public servants unlawfully engaged in trade, theft of property less than Rs 5,000, public intoxication, and defamation. Accordingly, the panel’s recommendations, this punishment has now been defined under Section 23 of the revised Bill. Community service is ‘work which the Court may order a convict to perform as a form of punishment that benefits the community, for which he shall not be entitled to any remuneration.’ Moreover, a Magistrate of the First or Second Class has been specifically empowered to impose this punishment, to encourage a more reparative approach to minor crimes.

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One contentious issue is the retention of criminal defamation, which could potentially affect journalists and critics. The punishment for defamation may include imprisonment, fines, or community service, raising concerns about freedom of expression.

Many countries have repealed criminal defamation, but the new Government has retained it which is mostly used or abused to drag the opposition leaders. Earlier the IPC in Section 500, which dealt with the punishment for defamation, but it is no longer present. Instead, the offense of defamation is now addressed under Section 354(1) of the Sanhita. Additionally, Section 354(2) of the proposed Sanhita outlines the punishment for defamation, which includes the option of “community service.” It states: “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both, or with community service.”

Problem of Imprisonment and Heavy Fines

There is a valid concern. While the new law may seem innocuous on the surface, the implementation of rules under these criminal acts is crucial. For example, in the case of criminal defamation, heavy fines imposed through rules could potentially make it challenging for journalists to freely criticize or comment on politicians, MLAs, or ministers. Regarding the amount of fine, it’s essential to consider the context and the specific provisions laid out in the law.

Innocent individuals, including journalists, could face imprisonment if they cannot afford to pay such hefty fines. This highlights the importance of thorough examination and analysis of each section dealing with penalties or definitions of criminal behaviour, especially regarding fines and other conditions outlined in the rules. Ultimately, the impact of these laws heavily relies on how they are interpreted and enforced through the accompanying rules and regulations. It’s crucial to ensure that the rights of individuals, including journalists, are protected and that punitive measures are fair and proportionate to the offense committed, especially when at present, each trial itself becomes the real punishment.

Thus, the fines imposed under these laws, especially in cases like defamation, could have serious consequences for individuals, including journalists, who may face imprisonment if they cannot afford to pay. Ultimately, the impact of these laws will depend on how they are implemented and enforced. It’s essential to ensure that the rights of individuals are protected, and punishments are fair and proportionate to the offense committed.

It is Government of Bharath!

The current government of Bharath has made changes to the country’s criminal laws, aiming to update and improve them. These changes aren’t entirely new but mostly familiar. The goal is to make the laws simpler, more modern, and better suited to today’s society. The new laws propose to replace old ones, introduce new crimes, and increase penalties for some offenses. They also aim to make the language of the law easier to understand.

These Criminal Acts aim to replace the outdated laws with more modern and comprehensive legislation that reflects the evolving needs and values of society. By introducing these Bills, the Central government seeks to streamline and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system in India.

The three new Criminal Acts 2023 introduced in the Lok Sabha to overhaul the country’s criminal justice system, but immediately they have amended, as: The Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2023, the Code of Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2023 and the Indian Evidence Act (Amendment) Act, 2023. These changes were suggested by a committee formed by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2020, which reviewed the existing laws to ensure safety and justice for everyone.

However, there has been some controversy surrounding these changes. While the government claims they are necessary improvements, some opposition members argue that the new laws are rushed and largely similar to the old ones. They also raise concerns about potential misuse, especially regarding the offense of criminal defamation.

In 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs formed a committee led by Dr. Ranbir Singh, a former Vice Chancellor of the National Law University (NLU) in Delhi. This committee was tasked with reviewing the three main criminal law codes in the country. Its purpose was to suggest changes to these laws to ensure the safety of individuals, communities, and the nation, while also emphasizing principles like justice and dignity.

BJP MP Brij Lal headed a 31-member Parliamentary Standing Committee that has reviewed after their introduction in August. Several experts, consulting experts and stakeholders, before the panel adopted report on the Bills on November 7. Most of the opposition MPs pointing out several errors and recommending more than 50 changes. In their dissent notes, the opposition MPs flagged the lack of diversity in the experts consulted, questioned the haste with which the new laws are being introduced. They also highlighted that they are ‘largely a copy-paste’ of the existing laws. Regarding the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill, 2023: The Indian Penal Code (IPC) was established in 1834 and became effective in 1860. The new BNS Bill for 2023 aims to replace and update the IPC. This new bill proposes various changes, including those related to defamation, crimes against women, and attempted suicide. While the current IPC consists of 511 sections, the BNS Bill has 356 sections. It largely retains sections from the old Indian Penal Code. Specifically, 175 sections have been amended, 8 new sections have been added, and 22 sections have been repealed. Home Minister Shah, in his speech in Lok Sabha, said–“Grammatical and language errors have been corrected. The Bills were examined at length by the Standing Committee and it was necessary to include the suggestions. There are no major changes. Had we continued with the old Bills, several official amendments would have had to be made, so we decided to introduce new Bills instead. Adequate time, 48 hours, has been given to members to study the Bills…We do not want to pass such important pieces of legislation in a hurry,” Mr. Shah said while introducing the revised Bills.

He further said:

“313 badlav hai maanyavar…Hamare criminal justice system ke andar amoolchool parivartan hoga aur sabko zyaada se zyaada 3 saal mein nyay milega…isme police durupyog nakarpaye, aisa bhi hai. Ismein Raj droh jaise kanoon ko nirastkar rahe hai.”

(Means: There are 313 changes in the new bill…The entire criminal justice system will be completely overhauled and everyone will get justice in a mamimum of three years… The bill will introduce that police do not misuse their power. Offenses like sedition have been repealed.)

Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu
Author is Dean, Professor of law at Mahindra University at Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner. He published a number books in English and Telugu.


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