Shri 420, Chachi 420, IPC 420 – such titles might lead the American observer down the path of herbal meditation, conjuring up images of something associated with cannabis culture. One might expect Snoop Dogg to appear in one of these movies. However, the Indian, and sometimes South Asian, context is different. The term “420” refers to the confident trickster in these films. Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code, the inspiration behind these monikers, is far from being a gateway to an alternate state of consciousness. It refers, instead, to the very earthly crime of forgery and fraud (in fact the penalties, the crime found in 419). But not anymore.
almost It will replace Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 With Article 316 of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 (BNS). Section 420 is just one example of this The Union government proposes complete reform criminal justice system. The IPC had a total of 511 sections, as opposed to the 356 sections found in the BNS. Besides, the Minister of the Interior introduced Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita BellFurthermore, the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023 will replace the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Many committees have recommended such changes.
Ironically, our criminal justice system, even today, bears the indelible marks of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay. Although the British themselves refrained from establishing a codified criminal justice system, they did not hesitate to formulate such provisions for India, remnants of which remain to this day. There are five reasons why these bills matter.
The first is the erasure of colonial legacies. And the reason is clear. Before analyzing any bill, one should read the Statement of Purposes and Reasons (SOR) that accompanies the bill. In the words of SOR of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita: “In 1834, the first Indian Law Commission was set up under the chairmanship of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay to examine the jurisdiction, authority and rules of existing courts as well as police institutions and laws in force in India… One of the important recommendations made by the Commission was the Penal Code Al-Hindi, which was issued in 1860 AD, and the aforementioned law is still continuing in the country, with some amendments to it from time to time.
Second, moving to reform these laws is not just a legal imperative, it is a philosophical one. It is a journey towards self-realization. As John Locke said, there is a social contract between government and “the governed”. Replacing outdated and unjust provisions with laws that reflect the spirit, needs and aspirations of contemporary India is a step towards fulfilling this contract.
Third, as societies progress, they need laws that reflect their current values and needs. This development is most significant in the criminal justice system, especially when countless people are in prison. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a staggering 77 per cent of India’s prisoners in 2021 were on trial.
Prisons, which are designed to hold a certain number of prisoners, are becoming extremely overcrowded and have exhausted their capacity. The prolonged delay in reforming the criminal justice system is an injustice in itself. Injustice to countless trials, waiting for their day in court. Injustice to the victims who crave closure. An injustice to an oath that would rather not end up near the criminal justice system. Injustice to the citizens themselves who put their trust in the pillars of democracy. The introduction of community service as a form of punishment in the BNS represents an innovative and humane approach to criminal justice. By targeting petty crimes, it serves as an alternative to imprisonment, with a focus on rehabilitation and social integration.
Fourth, the inconsistencies in the Indian criminal justice system have led to confusion. For example, Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes attempted suicide, while the Mental Health Care Act of 2017 assumes that such an attempt is caused by extreme stress and needs care rather than punishment. This struggle, while decriminalizing the act in practice, leaves out Article 309 of the Islamic Penal Code, which creates legal ambiguity and room for interpretation. BNS has addressed this.
Fifth, the introduction of the BKB is a critical update to the criminal justice system, reflecting significant changes in technology and society since 1872. It recognizes the vital role of electronic information, allowing for the acceptance of digital records and the creation of provisions for electronic emergence. This expands the scope of secondary evidence to include different forms of electronic and mechanical copies and provides more precise and uniform rules for admissibility. In an age when information is increasingly digital, these amendments align the law with contemporary practice.
There are nearly 50 million backlogs of cases pending in Indian courts (including quasi-judicial forums). Two-thirds of them are criminal cases, and they are concentrated in the lower courts. An effective solution to these problems is the function of the definition of “crime” (eg, 377 in the IPC) and the procedures for criminal prosecutions. Reliability will not go down just because of these three bills. But they will help. Section by section, the bills have redefined “crime” and made procedures simpler.
Before they become laws, bills will be referred to the committee. In the process, one hopes, there will be more precision in the still somewhat vague definitions of “crime”. (discord is an example, although the word is not used specifically.)
As we bid farewell to the outdated Indian Penal Code, one cannot help but remember Raj KapoorThe famous song “Mera Joota Hai Japani” from the movie “Shree 420”. Just as his shoes were Japanese and his hat English, but his heart remained Indian, legal reforms returned the essence of India to the law books. No longer should the legal fabric of India dance to the whims of the colonial age. And by adopting the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Act and related reforms, India is not just changing numbers, it is reclaiming its identity with a flair that even the most confident crooks of Bollywood would applaud. If Lord Macaulay could see us now, he might be humming a different tune!
Debroi and Sinha are, respectively, the Chairman and OSD Research Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council