The government has decided to withdraw the three new criminal law bills from the Lok Sabha in order to introduce new draft legislation.
These drafts will incorporate some of the modifications recommended by the Parliamentary committee. Notably, the term "mental illness" will be replaced with "unsound mind" as a defence for the accused in the Bhartiya Nyay Samhita (BNS) 2023.
The BNS 2023 is meant to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which provides protection from prosecution to a person of unsound mind. However, the BNS modifies this protection to apply to persons suffering from mental illnesses.
The parliamentary committee, led by BJP MP Brij Lal, was of the belief that the government should revert to the phrase "unsound mind", arguing that the term "mental illness" is excessively broad, potentially encompassing conditions such as mood fluctuations and self-induced intoxication.
The panel has suggested that the term 'mental illness' in this Sanhita should be replaced with 'unsound mind' wherever it appears as the current phrasing could potentially lead to complications during court proceedings.
For instance, a defendant could argue that they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time the crime was committed, and therefore avoid prosecution even if the crime was committed without intoxication, according to the committee's report.
The government has agreed to the recommendation, Indian Express reported citing sources.
However, the proposal to maintain the adultery offence in BNS 2023 and to make non-consensual sex between men, women, and/or transgender persons illegal by reintroducing section 377 of the IPC has been turned down by the government.
The BNS has omitted Section 497 of the IPC, as the Supreme Court in a ruling in 2018 had decriminalised adultery.
However, the committee has voiced apprehensions about the necessity to maintain the provision to safeguard the sanctity of the institution of marriage. They believe it can be tweaked to tackle the gender discrimination aspect.
According to sources cited in the IE report, the government has expressed disagreement with the recommendation.
The revised bills might encounter resistance from the INDI Alliance in Parliament. Opposition parties have already planned to synchronise their parliamentary tactics regarding the three bills, along with the Chief Election Commissioner and Other ECs (Appointment, Conditions of Service, and Term of Office) Bill.
The decision has been made to insist that the three Bills be sent to a joint Select Committee for review.
With the bills already scrutinised by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, it is doubtful that the government will agree to the opposition's demand.
On 11 August, three Bills were presented in the Lok Sabha by Union Home Minister Amit Shah and were sent to a standing committee on the same day.
The new Bills introduce significant changes in criminal jurisprudence, including a fresh clause on mob lynching, which can result in seven years in jail, life imprisonment, or even the death penalty. The bills will enable speedy justice via video trials and electronic filing of FIRs.
They will also broaden the definition of sedition, and incorporate corruption, terrorism, and organized crime within the penal laws. They also propose community service and solitary confinement as novel punitive measures, and allow for trials to be conducted even in the absence of the accused, among other provisions.
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