This article on ‘The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill, 2023: A Brief Overview’ was written by Toya Sen, an intern at Legal Upanishad.
On August 11, 2023, the Home Minister of India, Amit Shah, introduced three bills in the esteemed House of Lok Sabha. This is a momentous and pivotal step in India’s existing Criminal Justice System as it aims to revamp and replace the colonial laws, namely the Indian Penal Code, The Code of Criminal Procedure, and The Indian Evidence Act, which have been in place since British Rule.
The Indian Penal Code is set to be replaced by The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, while The Code of Criminal Procedure will be replaced by the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita. Additionally, the Indian Evidence Act will be substituted with the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill. This article will explore the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill and its impact on current criminal laws, highlighting the significant changes it has introduced.
In the year 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs set up a committee led by Dr. Ranbir Singh, who was the former vice-chancellor of the National Law University Delhi (NLUD), to review the three codes of criminal law that govern the criminal justice system in India.
The committee aimed to suggest changes to the criminal laws of the country in a principled, effective, and efficient way that prioritizes the safety and security of individuals, communities, and the nation. They also aimed to uphold constitutional values such as justice, dignity, and the inherent worth of every individual. In February, the committee submitted its recommendations.
The Indian Penal Code (IPC)
As of recently, the Indian Penal Code is the certified code for India, encompassing all areas of criminal law. Its existence can be traced back to the 19th century, when it was first drafted by the First Law Commission, chaired by Thomas Babington Macaulay.
In 1837, the initial version of the code was introduced to the Governor-General in Council, but due to various revisions and amendments, it took more than two decades for the criminal code to be enacted. The drafting was finally completed in 1850 and was presented before the Legislative Council in 1856, but because of the Indian Revolt of 1857, it was further delayed in being added to the statute book of British India.
On January 1st, 1860, the Indian Penal Code was put into effect after undergoing various revisions and amendments made by Barnes Peacock, who later became the first Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court. The IPC is divided into 23 chapters and has 511 sections in total.
Salient Features of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill, 2023
The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, 2023, aims to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which has been in effect since British Rule in India. This new Bill proposes several modifications to the current criminal laws in the country, including those related to sedition, defamation, offenses against women, and attempted suicide. Unlike the IPC, which has 511 Sections, the BNS Bill contains 356 provisions.
According to government officials, this new bill aims at effectively addressing crimes and criminals as well as serving as a deterrent. The legislation has a victim-centric approach, which was lacking in the 160-year-old IPC. The officials have also remarked that the IPC was designed to prioritize British Rule rather than protect human rights. One of the key examples of this would be laws relating to sedition. To address the issue of sedition, which has been used and misused by governments, the bill will seek to erase the sections completely from the new criminal code.
The new law aims to clearly define serious crimes and establish effective methods for dealing with offenders. Priority has been given to crimes such as murder, offenses against women and children, and offenses against the State. To simplify and streamline the law, Section 375 (rape) has been renumbered as Section 63, while Section 300, which defines murder, will now be Section 99.
Definitions that were previously scattered throughout Sections 6 to 52 have been consolidated into one Section. The sections that were overlapping have been combined and made more straightforward, resulting in a total of 356 sections, down from the existing IPC’s 511 sections.
Here are some key points from the bill aimed at tackling problems related to the IPC.
Prevention of crime against women:
This bill directs the government that proper investigation of a case is the top priority of any government. Situations or cases wherein a woman is subjected to the false promise of marriage, gang rape of minors, mob lynching, and chain snatching have been reported, but the previous code did not define the provisions to deal with these crimes. Therefore, in cases of a false promise of marriage, where a woman is being abandoned by her partner after establishing sexual relations, Section 69 of the BNS bill will be able to define this offense.
Also, it has been said that the punishment for the two types of gangrape is to be merged and that the punishment for gangrape of a woman under the age of 18 would be life imprisonment or death.
Mob lynching, Section 101(2):
Due to extensive media coverage of mob lynching cases rising in the country, the new bill has defined the punishment for these instances from seven years imprisonment to life imprisonment or the death penalty.
The new BNS Bill proposes that any girl under 21 years of age and any boy under the age of 18 that is being trafficked into India from any other country outside India with the intention to force or seduce them into illicit sexual acts will be punished with imprisonment up to 10 years. Currently, there are no laws that govern or hold a person accountable for the aforementioned acts.
The bill would include a new section that criminalizes the act of hiring, employing, or engaging a minor to commit these acts. Both girls and boys are trafficked to be exploited sexually. The word ‘minor girl’ would be substituted with the word ‘child’ to cover both males and females.
Acts of terrorism:
This section pertains to any actions that aim to jeopardize the unity, integrity, and security of India, intimidate the general public, or disturb public peace and order by utilizing a variety of deadly weapons and other hazardous substances. Additionally, any act listed in the second schedule of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act as a terrorist act is also considered under this section. Anyone involved, either directly or indirectly, in such acts will be considered a terrorist.
Removing sedition from criminal law:
Moreover, if an organization is owned or managed by a person or group involved in terrorism, that organization will be deemed a terrorist entity as well. If a terrorist act results in someone’s death, the punishment can include the death penalty or life imprisonment along with a minimum fine of ten lakh rupees. In other cases, the minimum punishment is five years of imprisonment, which can be increased to life imprisonment. The section also prescribes a minimum punishment of five years imprisonment, which can be extended to life imprisonment, for those preparing for a terrorist act.
Removing sedition from criminal law
The existing act of sedition, which is a criminal offense under Section 124A of the IPC, has been set out to be erased from the new bill. Officials, however, have said that any act of secession, armed rebellion, separatist activities, or acts that harm the sovereignty, unity, or integrity of India will be punishable by law under Section 150. The act will be punishable with imprisonment up to seven years or life imprisonment, and it will also be liable for a fine.
In a historic stride towards modernising India’s Criminal Justice System, the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill of 2023 promises to replace outdated colonial-era laws. Crafted with a victim-centric approach, the BNS Bill addresses issues ranging from crimes against women to terrorism. By streamlining and clarifying laws, this legislation is set to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice process. This significant reform underscores the nation’s commitment to safeguarding constitutional values and ensuring a safer, fairer, and more secure society for all.
- “Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, 2023 – Background, Objectives, Provisions”, Vajiram & Ravi: IAS Study Center, 12 August 2023, available at: https://vajiramias.com/article/bharatiya-nyaya-sanhita-bill-2023-background-objectives-provisions/64d731cc6c1bdb05a3de5ab0/
- “Explained: Key provisions of Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita bill 2023, expected to replace Indian Penal Code”, CNBC TV 18, 11 August 2023, available at: https://www.cnbctv18.com/politics/explained-key-provisions-of-bharatiya-nyaya-sanhita-bill-2023-expected-to-replace-indian-penal-code-17507431.htm