Jan Vishwas Bill, 2022: A failed attempt at decriminalisation

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Source: The post is based on the article “A failed attempt at decriminalisationpublished in The Hindu on 29th December 2022

What is the News?

The Union Government has tabled the Jan Vishwas Bill, 2022 in Parliament with the objective of “decriminalizing” 183 offences across 42 legislations and enhancing the ease of living and doing business in India.

What are the key provisions of the Jan Vishwas Bill, 2022?

Decriminalising 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 the Patents Act, 1970, a person selling a falsely represented article as patented in India is subject to a fine of up to one lakh rupees. The Bill replaces the fine with a penalty, which may be up to ten lakh rupees. In case of a continuing claim, there shall be an additional penalty of one thousand rupees per day.

Revision of fines and penalties: The Bill increases the fines and penalties for various offences in the specified Acts. Further, these fines and penalties will be increased by 10% of the minimum amount every three years.

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.  

– These Acts include the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, 1937, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and the Public Liability Insurance Act,1991.

Appellate mechanism: 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.   

How will the Bill help in ease of doing business?

The fear of imprisonment for minor offences is a major factor hampering the growth of the business ecosystem and individual confidence. A web of outdated rules and regulations causes a trust deficit.

The need of the hour is to achieve Minimum Government, Maximum Governance redefining the regulatory landscape of the country under the Ease of Living and Ease of Doing Business reforms. This bill will help in achieving this objective.

Read more: Laws and order – Decriminalisation will improve business environment
What are the criticisms against the bill?

Firstly, the Bill might undertake ‘quasi-decriminalisation’.

Secondly, the Observer Research Foundation’s report titled Jailed for Doing Business found that there are more than 26,134 imprisonment clauses in a total of 843 economic legislations, rules and regulations which seek to regulate businesses and economic activities in India.

– In this light, the number of offences deregulated under the Bill seems to be a mere drop in India’s regulatory framework.

Thirdly, 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.

Lastly, the bill conforms to the understanding of the government that decriminalization should be limited to regulatory domains.

– However, the time is now ripe to shift focus to existing penal offences as well. Debates are ongoing about the decriminalisation of several penal offences such as sedition, offences under the NDPS Act & UAPA Acts etc. There is an urgent need to assess these offences on a principled basis.

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