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Analysing Community Service as a Mode of Punishment in Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), 2023

The introduction of community service as an alternative punishment epitomizes the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita's progressive approach to criminal justice. This reformative measure empowers magistrates to issue non-custodial sentences for specific offenses. Consequently, individuals have the opportunity to repay their debt to society without facing incarceration.

This innovative reform not only alleviates the strain on the prison system, reducing overcrowding, but also prioritizes rehabilitation and reintegration. By providing individuals with opportunities to make amends while maintaining their freedom, community service fosters a sense of personal responsibility and promotes positive societal outcomes.

This approach aligns with the BNS's commitment to restorative justice, which seeks to repair harm caused by criminal behaviour and foster a more just and inclusive society.

The court may mandate community service as punishment for offenders, wherein they perform tasks that benefit the community without compensation [Section 4(f) BNS, 2023].

Community service is a non-custodial restorative justice approach aiming to reintegrate offenders into society. Community service has not been defined in the BNS and the nature of community service to be performed by the accused person will be decided by the Magistrate.

Explanation to Section 23 of the BNSS defines Community Service as work ordered by the Court as punishment that benefits the community, with no remuneration paid to the convict performing it.

The BNS has introduced community service for six specific offences, including:
  • Non-appearance in response to a proclamation under Section 84 BNSS (Section 209 BNS).
  • Public servant unlawfully engaging in trade (Section 202 BNS).
  • Attempt to commit suicide to compel or restrain exercise of lawful power (Section 226 BNS).
  • Petty theft (involving property worth less than INR 5,000) by first-time offenders upon returning the stolen property (Proviso to Section 303 BNS).
  • Misconduct in public by a drunken person (Section 355 BNS).
  • Defamation (Section 356 BNS).

Criticism of Community Service as a Mode of Punishment:
Community service as a punishment for crime has drawn criticism due to its perceived leniency and inconsistent application among different judges. The inconsistency in imposing community service sentences creates a perception of unfairness and disparity within the justice system. Another significant critique is the lack of adequate supervision and enforcement of community service orders.

Difficulties in ensuring completion of assigned hours and instances of poor record-keeping allow some offenders to avoid their obligations, undermining the rehabilitative and punitive value of community service. Research indicates that community service alone may have limited impact on recidivism, suggesting the need for additional rehabilitative measures.

The implementation of community service programs faces challenges in terms of resource allocation and coordination among agencies. Public perception often views community service as an inadequate punishment, potentially diminishing trust in the justice system. The ethical concerns surrounding community service involve concerns about involuntary servitude, particularly when assigned tasks do not directly address the harm caused by the crime.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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