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Lok Sabha Passes Three Criminal Bills In Absence Of 97 Suspended Opposition MPs

Only MPs from AIMIM and the Shiromani Akali Dal have expressed concerns about the Bills' introduction of a "police state" and unrestrained government power.

The three new criminal bills were approved by the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, December 20, without the 97 opposition MPs who had been suspended.

The Indian Penal Code 1860, will be replaced by the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill; the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, will be replaced by the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam Bill; and the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, will be replaced by the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill.

Following protests in the house seeking a response from Union Home Minister Amit Shah on the security breach in parliament last week, 49 opposition MPs were suspended from the Lok Sabha. On Tuesday, the Bills were first brought up for passage and consideration.

The afternoon round of the debate on Wednesday was briefly interrupted when Pralhad Joshi, the minister of parliamentary affairs, entered the room to declare the suspension of two more opposition MPs. A total of 143 opposition MPs have been suspended since December 14.

The three new criminal bills were debated over the course of two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) by a total of 35 MPs. Members of parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and allies, including the YSR Congress Party, Biju Janata Dal, and Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party, participated in the debate and backed the legislation.

Only MPs of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) expressed worry over the Bills' creation of a "police state" that would give the government unrestricted power.

During her address, SAD MP Harsimrat Kaur raised the lack of opposition and stated that the laws will grant the police "unbridled powers" to create an authoritarian state because there are "no checks and balances" in place.

“These arbitrary powers are against liberty, democracy, dissent and opposition. Here is a living example that such an important Bill is being discussed, which should be in a fair and transparent manner with everybody allowed to air their views, and here there is only the ruling party and a handful of us opposition who are being allowed to say what we want,” she said“.

This is not the way for such an important Bill to be passed.” MP Simranjit Singh Mann of the SAD (Amritsar) further stated that this was an "undemocratic practice of debating these Bills because the opposition is not present." “They are also unconstitutional; again, because the opposition is not present and I propose that these Bills come up when the whole opposition is present and it is properly debated.”

Mann's address was obliterated when he brought up the June 19 killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Vancouver, Canada, referring to it as a significant “criminal [matter]”. Mann was "deviating" from the subject, stated the chair, Rajendra Agarwal, who then asked the subsequent speaker to proceed.

Asaduddin Owaisi, an AIMIM MP, expressed his opposition to the Bills as well, claiming that they will give the government and police more authority under the pretence of reform. “If Bhagat Singh and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi were alive, they would say that this is the Rowlatt Act. The government has to answer who are the actual successors of Macaulay,” he said further.

In addition, he expressed concern about the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) clauses being included in the law, stating that while laws are being changed to benefit the privileged, minorities, Dalits, and Adivasis are being disproportionately convicted and imprisoned.

“Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis are languishing in jail. They are reforming the laws for the powerful. How will the poor benefit from this? The cure [the new laws] is deadlier than the disease,” he said.

While concluding the Tuesday discussion, Shah told the house in his response that the new laws were written with the spirit of the Indian constitution in mind.

“Prime Minister Modi promised from the ramparts of the Red Fort that the country will be liberated from colonial laws, and the home ministry has sought to do that. These [old] laws were to govern a dependent country, but the new laws have been framed keeping in mind the core values of our constitution – individual freedom, human rights and equal treatment for all,” said Shah.

In a subtly pointed jab at the opposition and the Congress, Shah stated that people who had voiced concerns, claiming that the new rules did not significantly alter, should understand the laws as Indians.

“For the first time, laws are going to be made according to the spirit of our constitution under the leadership of Modi ji. I am proud to have changed these three laws after 150 years.” He went on: “Some people used to say that we do not understand them; I tell them that if you keep your mind as an Indian, then you will understand. But if there is Italy in your mind, you will never understand.”

For the first time, terrorism had been defined in criminal laws, said Shah. “Terrorism is the biggest threat to human rights. Remember, this is neither the rule of the British nor of the Congress. This is the rule of BJP and Modi ji. No arguments to save terrorists will be entertained here.

To ensure that it is not misused, we have defined it,” he said Shah added that "rajdroh" (sedition) has been replaced with "deshdroh" (anti-patriotic acts) in the new laws, which also remove sedition.

He declared that while there would be consequences for acting against the nation, criticism of the administration would not carry any penalties.

In response to Owaisi's concerns that the new laws would create a "police state" by granting the state and police unchecked authority, Shah stated that "these laws are being made so there is no police state."

The three new bills were initially introduced in Lok Sabha on August 11. A parliamentary standing committee was subsequently tasked with looking into them, and on November 10th, the committee released its report. While recommending certain modifications, the report applauded the decision to introduce the new Bills.

G. Mohan Gopal noted in a piece for The Wire that even in their revised version, the Bills “weaponise the police and the criminal justice system to give the political leadership at all levels – centre, state and local – even greater opportunity to abuse the criminal justice system for political gain through selective, targeted and politically biased prosecution against ideological and political rivals.”

Some of the changes brought in the second draft include a pullback of the expansion of the crime of terrorism beyond the existing definition in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA); and a circumscribed definition of “petty organised crime”. Along with these modifications, the government has dropped its previous proposal that life in prison is defined as "imprisonment for the remainder of a person's natural life" in all cases, clarified the definition of community service and the punishment for "culpable homicide not amounting to murder," and made a distinction between mental illness and mental unsoundness.

The suggested gender-neutrality of adultery as a crime, as recommended by the parliamentary standing committee, has not been revised in the new legislation.

Other committee recommendations that have not been implemented include the continuation of the criminalization of non-consensual sexual acts under IPC Section 377, the provision of executive justification for sentence commutations, and the inclusion of a special provision protecting healthcare workers.

Edited by: Victoria Muzio

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Tags: India Narendra Modi Indian Penal Code Lok Sabha Amit Shah Criminal Code Bills Lower House


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