Karnataka opposes new criminal laws, says it threatens democratic protests, civil rights

Karnataka Law Minister added that the state is committed to ensuring that the new laws do not undermine democratic protests and civil rights.
HK Patil
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Karnataka Law Minister HK Patil on Monday, July 1 announced that the state government opposes the implementation of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) and associated legislations. He also said that the government is seriously considering introducing amendments at the state level to address concerns with the new criminal laws at the next cabinet meeting on July 4.

During a press conference, Patil said that the Union government should defer the implementation of the BNS until it incorporates the recommendations suggested by the Karnataka government last year. He added that the state is committed to ensuring that the new laws do not undermine democratic protests and civil rights.

The state government had formed an expert committee led by Patil in September 2023, shortly after the Union government introduced the three Bills in the Lok Sabha in August 2023. The committee's report, submitted to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in October 2023, outlined 23 key recommendations. CM Siddaramaiah wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, urging the inclusion of these suggestions before the Bills were passed in Parliament.

The state had nine suggestions each in the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita and Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, and five suggestions in the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam Bill. 

Speaking on the gaps in the new laws, Patil said that the new laws criminalizes fasting as an attempt to commit suicide. "Fasting was an effective weapon in the freedom struggle, but is now being criminalized as an attempt to commit suicide. This is to suppress democratic protests. We will bring in an amendment to prevent any attempt to suppress protest," he asserted.

Patil also criticised the vague definitions and unilateral powers granted under the new laws. "While a new term ‘organised crime’ has been added, its definition is vague and absurd. It has given unilateral and discretionary powers to investigating agencies to prosecute individuals based on vague interpretations. New terminologies are used for land grabbing, contract killing, cybercrimes, etc., but are not meaningfully defined anywhere in the new Act," he said.

Another significant concern raised was the provision in the Indian Citizens’ Protection Code allowing police custody of up to 90 days. Patil described this as a violation of human rights and said the government has plans to amend it. He said the law will be amended to reduce police custody to the shortest time, and the court’s power to seize the property of the accused in a criminal case needs to be changed.

The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam replaced the Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) of 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 on July 1. Together, these three new laws will govern India's criminal justice system, define penal offences, prescribe processes for investigation and evidence gathering, and govern court trial procedures.

When tabling the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023, as a replacement for the CrPC, the Home Minister stated that the new laws aim to eliminate the colonial legacy and introduce an Indianized legal framework suitable for modern India. However, the consultation process during the pandemic and the laws' hasty passage through Parliament in December via voice vote, while many Opposition MPs were under suspension, have raised concerns.

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