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Enhancing Legal System: Jan Vishwas Bill Impact

The Jan Vishwas (Amendment of Provisions) Bill, 2022, has been introduced in Parliament by the Union Government. The proposal will be amended in the future to eliminate criminal penalties for 183 violations listed in 42 separate statutes. Its objective is to decriminalise minor acts to ease business operations.

Criminal law is a system for ordering, controlling, and enforcing punishments for any crime committed in the form of fines and penalties based on the seriousness of the act. As a result, "criminal law" refers to the collection of laws that govern illegal behaviour. Before criminal laws can be put into place, offences and crimes must be precisely defined and classed. Before declaring any act to be a crime, the crimes must be defined and what constitutes such crimes must be thoroughly examined.

As democracy grows, the government expands criminal law and penal provisions. Criminal law encompasses the set of regulations and guidelines that govern and establish consequences for unlawful activities. It entails the enforcement of penalties and the imposition of fines, which vary based on the severity of the offense. Therefore, Criminal law pertains to the collection of legal principles that are applicable to acts considered as crimes.

For the application of criminal laws, the offences or crimes must be properly defined and classified. Before declaring any act to be a crime, such defining of the crimes and determining what constitutes such crimes must be completely examined. The central government has continued to emphasize the importance of ease of doing business, has taken several steps in that direction.

"In the 2024 election, ease of doing business will also be a key plank of the ruling establishment to woo the business community and individuals," another parliamentarian, who did not want to be identified, said. "This bill is critical to removing the compliance burden."

Research Question: Decriminalization On Petty Offences And How It Can Be Useful?

Why was it implemented?
The main reasons for introducing this bill in Parliament are:
Fear of incarceration has been a significant factor in the slow growth of the easy of doing business environment. This is primarily due to the fact that the criminalization minor offences gives authorities disproportionate power, which they frequently abuse for personal gain. As a result, not only do these laws violate human rights, but they also result in overcrowded prisons. Furthermore, the presence of numerous complex laws has increased the workload of the court, resulting in a backlog of cases.

Legal scholars have expressed concern about the indiscriminate expansion of criminal law, which is frequently motivated by political goals such as projecting a strong image rather than addressing actual wrongdoing. This phenomenon is referred to by academics as "over criminalization," and governments have failed to provide adequate justifications for it. The increase in criminal cases and the overcrowding of prisons substantiate these claims, with a significant proportion of pending cases and a surplus prison population, as highlighted by the National Judicial Data Grid and the NCRB's Prison Statistics of 2021.

Minor Infractions Should Be Decriminalised.

The Bill proposes, in addition to decriminalizing minor offences, rationalizing monetary penalties based on the gravity of the offence. As stated by the minister during the Bill's introduction, "People have to be trusted. Minor mistakes should not be punished. There should be a provision for paying minor offence fines."

"Yet another novelty included in 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 law," according to the statement of objects and reasons.

Minor offence:
A minor offence is a socially harmful act that is either not authorised by criminal law or does not meet the criteria specified by criminal law. In contrast with a crime, a minor offence typically lacks the element of social danger; that is, the social danger is negligible in a criminal law sense. There is a distinction between civil, administrative, and disciplinary minor offences, as well as civil, administrative, and disciplinary liability.

A criminal offence that is less serious. Depending on state and local laws, these infractions may not even be recorded as part of a criminal record. In most cases, these types of infractions result in monetary fines and/or up to 90 days in jail.

Decriminalisation of minor offences for improving business sentiment and unclogging court processes
First, it's critical to understand the implications of a minor infringement under the penal code. The Government of India is in the process of decriminalising minor offences, according to the announcement released on June 8, 2020, with the aim of encouraging a favourable business environment and expediting judicial procedures. The definition will go into further detail about this procedure and classify whether or not the Indian government should be using it.

Merits Of The Bill

To begin with, as the bill aims to accomplish, it simplifies business operations throughout the nation, consequently enhancing business prospects within the country (as a part of the Make in India initiative). As per the 2020 World Ease of Doing Business study, India holds the 63rd position. According to reports, the strict regulation, as well as the abundance of penny offences and their imprisonment, posed a major problem. This bill would strengthen this position.

Additionally, it's important to note that there is no temporary exemption from responsibility. Instead, the consequences for minor offenses have shifted from imprisonment to financial penalties or fines, which serve as a deterrent. This change aims to alleviate the burden on prisons by reducing the number of incarcerated individuals.

The National Crime Records Bureau's Prison Statistics indicate that, due to the implementation of fines instead of imprisonment, the total number of prisoners has decreased from 5.54 lakh to 4.25 lakh, aligning with the prison capacity. Consequently, this approach not only eases the strain on correctional facilities but also results in fewer instances of imprisonment with the same intended impact.

Second, the bill paves the way for a more thorough examination of the Indian penal system. Section 124A had already been enacted by the Supreme Court (Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, a shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added)

What are the bill's opponents saying?
Firstly, the Bill might undertake 'quasi-decriminalization'. That means the severity of punishment will go down and many offences that will essentially criminal offences under different act no will be created as criminal offences

Second, according to the study by the observer research foundation there are more than 26,134 incarceration provisions in jailed for doing business in India's 843 economic legislations, rules, and regulations aimed at regulating businesses and economic activities. In this light, the Bill's deregulation of offences appears to be a drop in the ocean of India's regulatory framework.

Third, the regulatory offences to be considered for "decriminalization" must be prioritized not only in terms of business ease, but also in terms of the ills that plague our criminal justice system itself. Finally, the bill adheres to the government's view that decriminalization should be limited to regulatory domains.

However, the time has come to concentrate on current criminal offences as well. Several criminal offences, including sedition, are being decriminalized under the NDPS and UAPA Acts. As in the case of S.G. Vombatkere vs Union of India, there is an urgent need to evaluate these offences on a principled basis. Many other sections and acts, such as the NDPS Act, UAPA, and others, are also being debated.

The decriminalization of certain minor offences demonstrates the government's greater VISHWAS to businesses and organizations that it will act within the bounds of the law. However, there is a greater risk of increased default because the defaulter has a larger pocket to sustain the default with the money.

Taking another step towards making business easier. The government should proceed with caution when decriminalizing any crime or major penal provision that casts doubt on people's lives.

The Acts which are being amended include The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940; Public Debt Act, 1944; Pharmacy Act, 1948; Cinematograph Act, 1952; Copyright Act, 1957; Patents Act, 1970; Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; and Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. The other laws include Trade Marks Act, 1999; Railways Act, 1989; Information Technology Act, 2000; Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002; Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006; Legal Metrology Act, 2009; and Factoring Regulation Act, 2011

The Emerging Problem Of Overcriminalization And Its Result

Politicians frequently use the criminal law to gain or keep power by criminalizing minor activities that may have a hint of impropriety but would not be readily recognized as a crime in the public eye. As a result, governments, and those in positions of power over criminalize the activities and impose disproportionately harsh penalties and other sanctions.

As a result, there is an issue with over classification of crimes. Governments use this position to portray themselves to the public as responsible, anti-crime institutions. And, because modern nations are grappling with the problem of increased criminal activity, and residents want to live and work in a safe environment, such political-legal experiments are frequently found to be useful in increasing their vote banks.

Lawmakers want to appear to be actively preventing bad behaviour. Reports on how criminals "get away" with crime by exploiting legal loopholes and technicalities are a goldmine for tabloids and other forms of popular media. Policies are more likely to be implemented when there is no opposition, and no important organisation wants to speak on behalf of the "crime lobby" by objecting to our desire to use criminalization and punishment.

Overcriminalization refers to the extraneous criminalization of acts that lack a necessary and satisfying justification. Overcriminalization can take many forms, including superfluous statutes, doctrines that exaggerate culpability, grossly disproportionate punishments, untenable offences, harsh enforcement of minor infractions, overlapping and ancillary offences, and so on.
  1. Case pending:
    According to the National Judicial Data Grid, nearly 3.2 crore of the 4.3 crore pending cases are related to criminal proceedings. The growing number of criminal cases is inextricably linked to the number of criminal laws.
  2. Increase in prison population:
    The National Crime Records Bureau's Prison Statistics for 2021 reveal that Indian prisons have a capacity for 4.25 lakh individuals, yet there is an imbalance with 5.54 lakh prisoners currently being held in them.
  3. Economic resources:
    Considering the additional expenses associated with prisoners, the financial investment required for punitive measures becomes overwhelmingly substantial. This extensive allocation of resources cannot be justified by any discernible societal advantage. It is crucial not to underestimate the influence of economic considerations in influencing policy formulation and, ultimately, policy revisions.
  4. Destroying the Rule of Law:
    The rule of law is harmed by the rising criminalization. It is a fundamental truth that the vastness of criminal law undermines the notion of legality. The rule of law is commonly understood by legal logicians and philosophers to indicate that criminal statutes are passed by the government's legislative branch and contain a detailed and comprehensive description of the required behaviour to be followed. Therefore, it is impossible to identify the extent of forbidden behaviour without going beyond criminal regulations and looking into non-criminal ones. As a result, the criminal justice system outsources, or contracts with, outside parties.
  5. Unjust penalties:
    The issue of overcriminalization is fundamentally objectionable since it tends to lead to draconian and extravagant punishment. Thus, overcriminalization is the root cause of unfair sentences. The people who are subject to criminal culpability are the main victims of this injustice. Overcriminalization has more negative repercussions on those who are penalized than it does on taxpayers, our culture of compliance, the rule of law, or society. When defendants get sentences for actions that should not have resulted in criminal liability at all, or when punishments are imposed for actions that do not conform to our best theory of criminalization, injustice is most obvious.
  6. Criminal law degradation
    In the context of criminal laws, there is a belief that overcriminalization has qualitative implications that are more significant than the already assessed quantitative aspects. Simply put, overcriminalization undermines the quality of criminal laws, codes, and regulations, as well as impeding the efforts of those seeking to ensure fair and proportionate punishments for offenses. When a legal code becomes too large and expands rapidly, it often lacks proper organization, structure, and clarity.

    This makes the laws difficult for people to access and understand, particularly for those who must comply with them. Additionally, a rapidly expanding criminal code is prone to including offenses where the essential elements of a crime, such as the actions of the criminal (actus reus) and their mental state (mens rea), are excessively detailed. These drafting and explanatory shortcomings can lead to unfair and unintended consequences in criminal laws, creating a potential risk of disproportionately severe punishments.
  7. Penalty in place of offence and fine
    The proposal suggests decriminalizing certain violations by changing the classification of the punishment from a criminal offense to a civil offense. This entails replacing terms like "default," "violation," "breach," and "non-compliance" with the term "penalty." A similar process was undertaken in 2018 to decriminalize various offenses under the Companies Act of 2013, replacing the term "offense" with "penalty." For instance, under the Patents Act of 1970, falsely selling a patented article in India is considered an offense (a criminal act without imprisonment) and carries a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh.
The proposed Jan Vishwas Bill suggests replacing the offense and fine with a penalty. Similarly, the term "offense" and "fine" have been substituted with "penalty" in Section 26(3) of the P&S Act. To understand how this substitution of offense and fine with penalty amounts to decriminalization, it is necessary to comprehend the distinction between an offense and a civil violation, such as default, as well as their respective consequences of a fine and a penalty. The Supreme Court and High Courts have deliberated on these differences.

Provisions Of The Bill In Consonance With The Objectives. The Bill Contains The Following Provisions:

  1. Offenses are no longer criminalized
    Various offences associated with captivity punishment in the form of imprisonment term in previously existing Acts have been decriminalized under the bill by imposing only a fine. For example, under the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act of 1937, copying grade classification marks is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of up to five thousand rupees. According to the 1937 Act, the Grade label mark denotes the quality of an item.

    The existing punishment provisions are replaced by an eight-lakh rupee fine penalty in the Bill. Similarly, under the Information Technology Act of 2000, disclosing private information in violation of a lawful contract is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to five lakh rupees, or both in some cases. The Jan Vishwas Bill repeals these existing provisions and replaces them with a fine of Rs. 25 lakhs.

    For many offences that carried a fine, a new substituted provision was added to replace the existing one. The new provision imposes a fine rather than a penalty. In this regard, the Patents Act of 1970 has been amended. Under the previously existing provisions of the Patents Act of 1970, a person who sells an article falsely represented as patented in India is liable to pay a fine of up to one lakh rupees.17

    The Jan Vishwas Bill proposes to replace the provision with a new provision that imposes a penalty that can be increased up to ten lakh rupees. If the claim is continuing in nature, an additional penalty of one thousand rupees per day will be imposed. Trespass and cattle pasturing are punishable by imprisonment under the Indian Forest Act of 1972. The Jan Vishwas Bill, on the other hand, eliminates the imprisonment term while keeping the fine of

    500 rupees. Pollutant discharge is punishable by imprisonment under the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986. The Jan Vishwas Bill repeals the provision for imprisonment but retains the monetary penalty with an increase in the amount to be paid as fine.
  2. Reconsideration and modification of fines
    The Jan Vishwas Bill increases the fines and penalties for various offenses listed in the Bill. Each year, the fines and penalties will be increased by 10% of their minimum amounts as stated in the Bill. When it comes to environmental offenses, the Bill removes prison sentences and instead imposes higher penalties. The severity of the offense determines the extent of the penalty increase.18
  3. Selection of adjudicating officers
    The new Bill now includes a rule for the selection of adjudicating officers. The government has the power to appoint one or more adjudicating officers who will determine the penalties for offenses committed under Acts like the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act of 1937, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981, the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, and the Public Liability Insurance Act of 1991, among others. Additionally, the adjudicating officer has been given certain powers, including the ability to summon individuals to provide evidence and investigate violations of the mentioned Acts.
  4. Appeal from the Adjudicating Officer's decision
    The mechanism for appealing the adjudicating officer's order has been incorporated. If the party who approaches the officer regarding the penalty awarded is dissatisfied with the order issued, the aggrieved party may use the Bill's appellate mechanism. For example, under the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, appeals against the adjudicating officer's order can be filed with the National Green Tribunal within 60 days of the order's issuance.
  5. Limitations of the Bill
    The Jan Vishwas Bill attempts at decriminalization of offences and shifts the focus of law more on the penalty side of the punishment from the from the imprisonment side. However, the following limitations of the Bill restrict the scope of the Bill:
    1. The number of deregulated offences under the Bill is far lesser than total number of offences:
      According to the Observer Research Foundation's report, Jailed for Doing Business, there are more than 26,134 clauses in 843 statutes dealing with the regulation of economic activities and business that provide for imprisonment. As a result, Indian regulatory framework includes a slew of laws that must be decriminalised, but 309 of them have yet to be implemented. International Law Management and Policy Humanities Journal 2023. International Journal of Law Management & Humanities the Bill only addresses a few of the laws. As a result, the Bil cannot achieve a significant level of decriminalisation.
    2. Quasi-decriminalization of offences:
      Tax and fine can be used interchangeably, just as criminal and regulatory offenses can be. However, although these pairs may have similar terms, their functions and components differ. Taxation primarily serves a regulatory function, whereas when an individual is fined for wrongdoing, it not only affects their financial standing but also carries elements of social stigma and disapproval. It is essential to clearly differentiate between regulatory offenses and more serious offenses. Unfortunately, these distinctions are becoming increasingly blurred as stigma and disapproval are extended to regulatory domains.
    3. Limited to regulatory domains:
      The Bill's underlying meaning and approach suggest that the government aims to decriminalize only offenses related to regulations. However, there is a pressing need to decriminalize numerous penal offenses, such as sedition (Section 124A of the IPC), offenses under the UAPA and the NDPS Act, anti-conversion laws, and more. It is crucial to assess these and similar offenses based on principles and evaluate the need for decriminalization.
  6. Narrow legislative intent behind the Bill
    The main reason for the Bill's introduction is the ease of doing business, but this narrows the bill's scope in light of legislative intent. The Bill should have been introduced with the intention of improving India's ailing criminal justice system.
Conclusion
The Jan Vishwas Bill of 2022 is an important step towards decriminalizing minor offences in India. Decriminalization has several advantages, including lessening the burden on the criminal justice system, reducing disproportionate punishment for minor offences, and promoting a more business- friendly environment.

The Bill could help reduce the number of cases that go to court by replacing imprisonment with monetary penalties for minor offences, freeing up resources for more important matters. It is important to note, however, that decriminalization should not be viewed as a one- size-fits-all solution for all offences.

Serious crimes and offences that endanger society must continue to be dealt with harshly, and punishments must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence. It is also critical to ensure that the Bill's implementation is fair and transparent, and that wealthy offenders do not have the ability to buy their way out of punishment.

Furthermore, while it is critical to implement existing laws, it is also critical to review and update laws on a regular basis to ensure they are relevant and effective in addressing current issues. The government must strike a balance between the principles of minimal government and maximum governance, while also ensuring that regulations protect citizens' rights and interests.

There are only two solutions if overcriminalization is viewed as a quantitative problem. They must be repealed by the legislature, or the judiciary must intervene and declare such laws arbitrary and thus unconstitutional. According to a well-known account of the political economy of criminal law, "lawmakers' political and institutional incentives "always push towards broader liability rules as well as harsher sentences.

The current interpretation of the Constitution not only fails to counteract this dynamic, but actively promotes it, albeit unintentionally, by regulating criminal procedure and taking a laissez-faire approach to indigent criminal defence and substantive criminal law.

To summarise, the Jan Vishwas Bill of 2022 is a positive step towards reducing the burden on India's criminal justice system and promoting a more business-friendly environment. However, it is critical to ensure that the Bill is implemented fairly and transparently, and that serious offences are dealt with severely. In addition, the government must strike a balance between minimal government and maximum governance, and ensure that regulations are in place to protect citizens' rights and interests.

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