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House panel wants retrospective action under Jan Vishwas Bill: End ongoing proceedings for ‘minor offences’

New Delhi: A joint parliamentary committee scrutinising the Jan Vishwas (Amendment of Provisions) Bill, 2022 that proposes to decriminalise various offences in 42 laws including minor ones that invite jail term, has recommended the government should “endeavour” to bring the amendments proposed in the law with “retrospective effect for abating pending legal proceedings in respect of offences being decriminalised.”

Unlike civil liabilities, criminal liabilities cannot be imposed retrospectively. However, they can be done away with retrospective effect.

In its report tabled Monday, the panel headed by BJP’s Lok Sabha MP P.P. Chaudhary has agreed in principle with a majority of the 183 provisions proposed to be amended across 42 Acts administered by 19 ministries. In many instances, it recommended imposition of penalty rather than fine to “avoid increase in litigation.”

It has also recommended enhancing fines in many of the laws. For instance, under Section 29 of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, that deals with the penalty for use of government analyst’s report for advertising, the panel has recommended enhancing the fine from Rs 5,000 to Rs 1 lakh in case of the first time use of such a report for advertising.

Similarly, the imprisonment clause in Section 30(2) is being proposed to be removed.

Introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 22 and being piloted by the commerce ministry, the Bill aims to reduce the compliance burden on individuals and businesses with the twin objectives of ease of doing business and ease of living for the citizens.

It will amend almost 113 imprisonment clauses in various pieces of legislation, governing matters pertaining to the environment, air pollution, housing, and money laundering among others.

Three opposition members of the joint committee — Trinamool’s Sukhendu Sekhar Ray, Congress’ Dean Kuriakose and DMK’s Kanimozhi N.V.N Somu — filed dissent notes to various provisions proposed across 42 laws. “…. I suggest that in all aforesaid 42 Acts wherein provisions for 2 years of imprisonment and above are existing, those should be retained and the provisions for imprisonment less than 2 years maybe replaced with fine,” Ray said in his dissent note.

Also Read: Jail for ‘injuring post boxes’, begging on trains — penalties Jan Vishwas Bill seeks to remove

Bats for penalty instead of fine

Drawing a clear distinction between fine and penalty, the panel observed that while a fine is determined by a court, penalty is levied by an executive authority. It noted that in 11 Acts, while imprisonment has been removed, the fine has either been retained or enhanced.

“Hence, it is felt that retention of fine would not reduce compliance burden and lessen the litigations, which will nullify the objective sought to be achieved through the Bill. The committee, therefore, recommends that wherever feasible removal of imprisonment may be accompanied with levying of penalty instead of fine to avoid increase in litigation,” the report says.

The panel notes that contrary to punishing wrongful conduct, criminalisation of minor acts of omission or commission often becomes a tool for the executive to project a strong image.

“As many of the Acts belong to the British era where the State mistrusts its citizens, it is no longer the case in the country. This ‘overcriminalisation’ is required to be redressed by justifying the penalties in the law and bringing in flexibility. The regulatory burden often poses substantial deterrents for investors,” the panel observes.

For instance, in Section 33 (e) and (f) of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, it recommended replacing fine with penalty if any person leaves burning any fire kindled by him in the vicinity of any tree reserved under Section 30, whether standing fallen or felled, or closed portion of any protected forest; fells any tree or drags any timber so as to damage any such tree. The panel also recommended increasing the penalty from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000 for these violations.

It similarly recommended replacing fine with penalty in several other laws including the Boilers Act, 1923; the Drugs and Cosmetic Act, 1940; the Pharmacy Act, 1948; the Patents Act, 1970 among others.

Also, in case of major penalties, adjudication and appellate mechanism may be proposed.

The report states that there is a rise in the cases of criminal nature where the acts of omission or commission are either of trivial nature or compoundable and settled only with penalty.

As per the National Judicial Data Grid, as on 23 February, 2023, out of a total of 4,24,02,907 pending cases, 3,15,86,284 cases are in relation to criminal proceedings.

‘States should also carry out similar exercise’

Like the Centre has shown its intent to decriminalise offences of minor nature and replace the punishments with monetary penalties, the panel recommended that states carry out similar exercise in such cases on matters in the exclusive domain of state legislatures.

The joint committee said the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, which is looking after the Bill, should appoint a group of experts, which should be a full-time body consisting of legal professionals, industry bodies, members of bureaucracy and regulatory authorities, etc. to examine many other provisions of various laws that govern ease of living and ease of doing business and to suggest suitable amendments to decriminalise minor offences.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

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Source: The Print

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