New Criminal Bills: Opposition Submits List of 16 Domain Experts to Parl Panel for Eliciting Views

Senior advocate Fali S. Nariman and former Chief Justice U.U. Lalit are among the list of names proposed by the opposition. The opposition has accused the government of trying to rush the Bills through parliament without adequate consultation.

New Delhi: The Opposition has submitted a list of 16 domain experts to the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs which is examining the three new criminal law Bills meant to replace existing colonial-era criminal law codes in India, The Hindu reported.

Senior advocate Fali S. Nariman, former Chief Justice U.U. Lalit, and Justice Madan Lokur, a former Supreme Court judge, are among the list of names proposed by the opposition. The opposition suggested that the new Bills should be examined thoroughly by a set of experts, including Supreme Court and high court judges, members of Bar Councils, legal scholars, prison officials and reform activists, ethnic and religious leaders, as well as cybercrime experts, among others.

Union home minister Amit Shah had introduced three new Bills in the Lok Sabha: the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill, 2023 to replace the Indian Penal Code, 1860; the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill (BNSS), 2023 to replace the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898; and the Bharatiya Sakhshya Bill (BSB), 2023 to replace Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The Bills were introduced on the last day of the monsoon session of the parliament, on August 11.

The government has set out a three-month period for the parliamentary standing committee to examine the new Bills before the government can get them passed in the winter session of the parliament. The parliament committee, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Brijlal, consists of 27 MPs from various political parties from both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

Since the Bills were tabled in the Lok Sabha by the government, the opposition has raised alarm, stating that the government is trying to rush the Bills through parliament without adequate consultation and transparency. Although Shah claimed to have undertaken a “comprehensive consultation” process before tabling the Bills in Lok Sabha, the opposition is not convinced.

An opposition MP on the panel told The Hindu that going by the current pace of scrutiny, it would take at least one and a half years to go through the new Bills. “These legislations will impact the poorest of poor and still we are rushing through them without paying the due attention, which is very unfortunate,” he told the newspaper.

The opposition MPs on the panel also alleged that they are not being given an opportunity to voice their views on the Bills, and also raised concern over the way minutes of the meetings are being recorded.

As The Wire reported earlier, another committee whose recommendations ultimately culminated in the present form of the Bills has operated in complete secrecy ever since its constitution in May 2020. The committee also agreed to the involvement of non-members in shaping the recommendations for the Bills and the home ministry violated a statutory law to keep away any information related to the task.

Sources had told The Wire that the “crucial behind-the-scenes role” was played by the solicitor general of India, Tushar Mehta, and the additional solicitor general of India (ASG), Suryaprakash V. Raju, in making recommendations and framing the three Bills despite them not being part of the committee. Raju, who practiced at the Gujarat high court until his appointment as ASG of the Supreme Court in July 2020, had represented Shah in the Sohrabuddin encounter case.

The Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws (CRCL) was constituted on May 4, 2020, and none of its recommendations have been put in the public domain so far. Despite the all-important nature of its work, the committee’s workings have been kept secret, highlighting the lack of transparency in its functioning and the process it followed.