Recently, the Union Government tabled the Jan Vishwas Bill, 2022 in the Parliament.
- Tabled with the objective of: Decriminalising 183 offences across 42 legislations and enhancing the ease of living and doing business in India.
- Aim: It proposes to decriminalise many minor offences by replacing them with monetary penalties.
- A unique feature of the proposal is an increase of 10% of the minimum amount of fine and penalty levied after the expiry of every three years once the bill becomes a law.
Highlights of the Bill:
- Decriminalizing Certain Offences:Under the Bill, several offences with an imprisonment term in certain Acts have been decriminalised by imposing only a monetary penalty.
- For example:Under theAgricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, 1937, counterfeiting grade designation marks is punishable with imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to five thousand rupees. Grade designation mark indicates the quality of an article under the 1937 Act.The Bill replaces this with a penalty of eight lakh rupees.
- In certain Acts, offences have been decriminalised by imposing a penalty instead of a fine.
For instance, under the Patents Act, 1970, a person selling a falsely represented article as patented in India is subjected to a fine of up to one lakh rupees.
- Revision of Fines and Penalties: The Bill increases the fines and penalties for various offences in the specified Acts.
- Appointing Adjudicating Officers: As per the Bill, the central government may appoint one or more adjudicating officers for the purpose of determining penalties. The adjudicating officers may: (i) summon individuals for evidence, and (ii) conduct inquiries into violations of the respected Acts.
- Appellate Mechanisms: The Bill also specifies the appellate mechanisms for any person aggrieved by the order passed by an adjudicating officer.
For instance, in the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, appeals may be filed with the National Green Tribunal within 60 days from the order.
Issues with Overcriminalisation
- Wrong Tool: Criminal law is frequently used as a political tool and so the act of criminalisation often becomes a medium for governments to put across a strong image as opposed to punishing wrongful conduct.
- Can lead to anarchy: Governments offer little in the way of justifications to support such decisions.
- Rising cases: The growing number of pending criminal cases share a direct relation with the number of criminal laws. Also, the rise in the prison population is also proof of overcriminalization.
- More fines than punishment can set wrong trend: The intent of the Bill is merely to ensure that imprisonment is replaced with fines for as many offences as possible. The extent to which it succeeds in ‘decriminalising’ offences, however, is questionable.
- The regulatory offences to be considered for ‘decriminalisation’ need to be prioritised not only from the point of view of the ease of doing business, but also from the points of view of the ills that plague our criminal justice system itself.
- If these faults are to be rectified, it is pertinent that a more comprehensive exercise is undertakenand that the government prioritise the needs and requirements of the criminal justice system.