The Indian Penal Code was the replica of British criminal jurisprudence, designed not to help or protect India but rather to control and punish them. Various Sections of this criminal law were irrelevant in the current scenario because we as a society have evolved in every aspect. The Union Government of India proposed replacing the colonial-era criminal laws by launching a series of amendments aiming to protect the rights of Indian citizens. Three bills were introduced by the Minister of Home Affairs in the Lok Sabha to replace the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and the Indian Evidence Act. The bills introduced were the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill 2023, Bharatiya Nagarika Suraksha Sanhita Bill 2023, and Bharatiya Sakshya Bill 2023 aimed to replace the IPC 1860, CrPC 1973, and Indian Evidence Act 1872 respectively. While introducing the Bills, Union Minister Amit Shah said, “These three acts, which will be replaced, were made to strengthen and protect British rule and their purpose was to punish, not to give justice. We are going to bring changes in both these fundamental aspects.” In this article, we will discuss the key provisions and changes proposed by the introduction of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) of 2023.
Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023
In India, IPC 1860 is the principal law on criminal offences covering those affecting the property, the human body, public order, defamation, public health, and offences against the state. The longstanding IPC criminal law has been amended several times over the years to add new offences, change the quantum of punishment, and amend existing offences. Moreover, several Law Commission reports have recommended amendments to the IPC on subjects such as food adulteration, offences against women, and the death penalty. To transform the criminal justice delivery landscape of India, the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill 2023 was proposed which consists of 358 sections whereas the IPC 1860 consists of 511 sections. Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah introduced the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill in the Lok Sabha on August 11, 2023. Further, the BNS Bill was withdrawn on December 12, 2023, and the Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita Bill, 2023 was introduced in the Lok Sabha. On December 20, and 21, the Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita Bill, 2023, was passed in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively. Further, the Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita Bill, 2023, received the assent of India’s President Droupadi Murmu, on December 25, 2023.
Key Provisions and Changes
The new law gives precedence to offences against women, state, murder, and children. It also established uniformity in the use of the term ‘child’ by replacing expressions such as ‘child under the age of eighteen years’ and ‘minor’ throughout the legislation, helping to provide consistency and clarity in the legal language. The new BNS law introduced ‘community service’ as one of the punishments for certain offences such as ‘public servant unlawfully engaging in trade’, ‘Non-appearance in response to a proclamation under Section 84 of Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023’, ‘Attempt to commit suicide to compel or restrain exercise of lawful power’, ‘Misconduct in public by a drunken person’, and defamation. Some of the major changes are listed as follows:
Section 2 of the BNS, 2023, includes definitions of ‘child’ and ‘transgender’. Also, ‘Electronic and digital records’ have been incorporated in the definition of ‘document’ illustrating their importance in contemporary contexts. Along with this, the definition of ‘movable property’ has been revised, “includes property of every description, except land and things attached to the earth or permanently fastened to anything which is attached to the earth.”
Section 48 of the BNS, 2023, introduced a new rule ‘Abetment outside India for affence in India’. This means any individual who plots to carry out an offence in India while sitting in another country can be held accountable under this law.
Section 69 of the new law illustrated a new offence, ‘sexual intercourse by employing deceitful means, etc.’ It states that any individual by false promise of marriage, employment, or promotion engages in sexual intercourse should be punished with imprisonment for a term extending to 10 years and should be liable to fine.
The introduction of the new BNS law eliminated the age-based distinction for punishment in gang rape cases of a minor girl. It mandates life imprisonment of the death penalty for the crime of gang rape of a woman below 18 years of age, Section 70(2).
The new law also addresses the serious issue of mob violence, murder, or grievous hurt by five or more than five people on the specified ground, under Section 103. The grounds may include caste, community, place of birth, sex, race, personal belief, language, or any other.
The BNS, 2023, has modified the punishment for causing death by negligence from 2 years to 5 five years imprisonment under Section 106 (i). Moreover, it also highlighted that if such an act is done by a registered medical practitioner he/she should be punished with imprisonment for a term extending to 2 years and a fine.
Also, a new provision to address the cases of hit and run is introduced under Section 106(ii) of BNS 2023. It states that “Whoever causes the death of any person by rash and negligent driving of vehicle not amounting to culpable homicide, and escapes without reporting it to a police officer or a Magistrate soon after the incident, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description of a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine”.
Section 111 of the BNS, 2023, introduced deterrent punishments for organized crime such as land grabbing, kidnapping, contract killing, cybercrime, extortion, trafficking of persons or goods or weapons or drugs, and financial scams. It states that anyone who attempts or commits an organized crime will be punished with life imprisonment or death and a Rs. 10 Lakhs fine in case the offence results in the death of any individual and for others the punishment will be less than 5 years extending to life imprisonment and a fine of at least 5 lakh rupees.
The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita of 2023, also introduced deterrent punishments for committing any terrorist act, any act performed with “an intent to threaten or likely to threaten the unity, integrity, sovereignty, security, or economic security of India or with the intent to strike terror or likely to strike terror in the people or any section of the people in India or in any foreign country”. As per Section 113 of the law, anyone who commits such an offence will be punished with imprisonment for less than 5 years but may extend to life imprisonment and a fine. In case such an offence resulted in the death of any person then the offender is punished with death or life imprisonment and a fine.
Another important provision (Section 141), importation of a girl or boy from a foreign country, is introduced where any girl (under 20 years of age) and boy (under 18 years of age) is imported into India from any foreign country and are forced to illicit intercourse with another person will be punished with 10 years of imprisonment and a fine.
Along with this, the BNS of 2023 eliminated the Section related to Sedition (specifically Section 124A of the IPC) upholding the constitutional right of freedom of speech and expression. It introduced a new provision, Section 152 where any person who conducted an act endangering the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India will be punished with life imprisonment or imprisonment extending to 7 years and a fine.
Section 304 of the BNS 2023, has introduced a new offence of ‘Snatching’ which states that “theft is snatching if, in order to commit theft, the offender suddenly or quickly or forcibly seizes or secures or grabs or takes away from any person or from his possession any movable property”. As per this Section, anyone who commits snatching should be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years and a fine.
The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, introduced offences that were not included in the Indian Penal Code. The primary motive behind this is to “consolidate and amend the provisions relating to offences and for matters therewith or incidental thereto”. Various other noteworthy additions are mentioned by this law resulting in an organized structure to address the challenges and reflecting a commitment to fairness and clarity.
The proposed changes in Indian criminal law with the introduction of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita 2023, mark a step forward toward a modernized legal framework. It not only amends existing IPC law but also introduces various new provisions that may improve efficiency, fairness, and transparency in the legal process. However, only the enforcement of this law will not help to protect the rights of Indian citizens but also careful implementation and continuous monitoring will. As a whole, the BNS of 2023 is a comprehensive legal framework that is in tune with society's evolving needs and commitment to justice.
1. Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 will replace which existing criminal law?
2. How many Sections are there in the proposed law, Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023?