BJP Government Should Keep Away from Sinister Design to Hurriedly Change Criminal Laws in Pandemic Period- SDPI

SDPI takes strong exceptions to the formation of a five members committee by the Union government with the assignment to make changes in the existing laws, and demands immediate disbanding of the recently constituted 5-member Reform Committee by Modi government on 4th of May 2020 to give a report to make changes in Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Code of Criminal Procedure Act (CrPC) and Indian Evidence Act (IEA) within a period of six months. The committee members are mostly from National Law Universities ignoring wider and fair representation.
SDPI would like to caution the country on the sinister designs of the BJP government which has been trying hard to dilute and damage all the democratic institutions that facilitate functioning of the government. The latest target is Law Commission of India. The government by sidelining the 22nd Law Commission, constituted by the Modi government itself, has now unnecessarily formed a five members committee separately. The terms and reference of the committee are not transparent and the selection procedure of the members has also been opaque where no noted jurists, retired judges or authority of jurisprudence have been made member of the committee in question. The committee is packed with the camp-followers of the ideology of the ruling party and no member from Schedule Castes, tribes, minorities, trade unions, farmers, workers of unorganized sector, transgender groups, women, disability rights groups, etc. is included, nor their opinion has specifically been sought by the committee. So is the case with Bar Councils, Bar Associations, etc.
No proper transparent consultation for fixing the rules and procedure of the committee is made and the government in a haste wants to make changes to IPC, CrPC and IEA. These laws have evolved and developed after long processes in a span of two centuries. The government wants to change the laws in a hurry without consulting all the stakeholders and affording an opportunity to the people and their representatives who will be affected by the proposed changes.

SDPI strongly believes that the changes require careful and widespread deliberation particularly at a time when the country is reeling under the impact of global pandemic where the courts have been barely functional. Regular hearings continue to be suspended and virtual hearings are being conducted in selected cases. In this circumstance, timing of the formation of the committee and the haste to conclude the work of the committee within 6 months cannot be seen done in good faith.
The government intention to change the laws is suspicious in view of the recent Delhi violence cases. It seems that the government wants to turn the general principles of the existing laws upside down by making the confession of the accused person in custody lawful and the sole basis for the punishment, and hence the haste.
Law reforms made in haste, without transparency and public consultations will undermine the basic ethics of judicial system. The process of changing criminal laws being carried out is completely undemocratic, non-transparent and beyond the established procedure. It is true that existing laws should be more consonant with the democratic milieu of the country. But the haste to do it in this period of pandemic gives rise to suspicion that there is an ulterior motive behind this process and it is aimed at carrying out some predetermined changes to laws rather than honestly understanding and addressing the issues that Indian society is facing.
SDPI strongly demands that the committee to reform criminal laws as notified on 4th of May 2020 by the Indian government, be immediately disbanded and the current process be suspended forthwith. No vital changes in laws should be carried out during the period of pandemic till the court system resumes normal functioning and public meetings are allowed.
SDPI also demands that the Law Commission of India be specifically assigned the Criminal Law reform in accordance with the procedure and law of the land providing adequate representation to various sections of the society especially the marginalised and underprivileged groups.

Sharfuddin Ahmad Vice-President
Social Democratic Party of India