Defer implementation of new criminal laws, build consensus first: Ex-bureaucrats tell government

A group of 109 civil servants on Friday urged the Union government to defer the implementation of the three new criminal laws and ensure that they are reviewed at an all-party meeting.

On June 16, Arjun Ram Meghwal, the minister of state (independent charge) law and justice, said the three new laws – Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita and the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam – are scheduled to come into force on July 1.

The laws, replacing the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act, were passed in the Winter Session of Parliament in December in the absence of several Opposition MPs.

A hundred Opposition MPs in the Lower House, besides 46 in the Upper House, were suspended during the Parliament session for allegedly disrupting the proceedings as they sought a discussion on the December 13 security breach in the Lok Sabha chamber.

On Friday, the former civil servants, who are part of the Constitutional Conduct Group, said in an open letter that the three new laws “were rushed through parliamentary approval without having to face critical questioning”.

“As a result, a number of valid and important questions about the laws remain unanswered,” they wrote.

The former civil servants said that concerns about the laws fall into three broad categories, the first being the power given to the government to “immobilise the practice of democracy by over-broad criminalisation of legitimate, non-violent dissent”.

The second concern, they said, is the possibility of the laws being misused to “terrorise” civilians and public servants as the government would get “unguided, arbitrary and virtually unlimited power to selectively arrest, detain, prosecute and convict practically anyone they choose”.

They also alleged that the laws regularise extraordinary powers “which should normally be available only in legitimate states of emergency as already provided in the Constitution”.

“The effect of these laws, as currently approved, is that, once they come into effect, India will no longer be a functioning democracy,” wrote the former civil servants.

In view of this, they urged the president of India, the prime minister, the Union home minister, MPs of both Houses of Parliament and presidents of all national and state parties to ensure that the implementation of the new laws is deferred.

They said that an all-party meeting should be urgently called to develop a national consensus on taking the three laws forward “so as to completely remove all public concerns about the possible negative impact”.

“We urge the highest political executive of the Government of India, the members of both Houses of Parliament and leaders of political parties to ensure that these new laws do not hollow out our constitutional rights and jeopardise our democracy,” they wrote.


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