A new bill that could help some criminals
One is not sure whether this new bill is a measure to prevent overcrowding of prisons or to give the police more time to concentrate on serious offences, perhaps terrorism? If that sounds sarcastic, it was meant to be. I am still trying to understand what the country will gain by a law that will encourage criminals.
The new bill, which will become law if the President approves, will make it difficult for the police to arrest anyone who commits an offence for which the maximum sentence is seven years. But hold on, it’s not as if the police cannot arrest the suspect at all…it just means that a “notice” will have to be served to the offender, a notice which makes it imperative on the offender to “cooperate” with the investigation! If this isn’t funny enough, hear this: If the offender refuses to cooperate (and if he is still waiting around for the police to arrive) then he can be arrested! And what’s even more hilarious is the action that the police can take if the accused actually cooperates:
Where such person complies and continues to comply with the notice, he shall not be arrested in respect of the offence referred to in the notice unless, for reasons to be recorded, the police are of the opinion that he ought to be arrested.
As far as I can figure out, this means that we will have a lot more criminals on the streets, and worse, the fear of prison will reduce for the many who commit such crimes. Some of these offences (punished with a prison term of 7 years or less) are very serious indeed, and non-bailable as well. Not just in India, but the world over. The only difference now will be that in India the police will serve them “notices” before starting the investigation.
Take forgers for instance. Section 465 says that committing forgery entails a 2 year jail term. Even those who are in “possession of forged or counterfeit or currency-notes or bank-notes” (Section 489) can be punished only with 7 years. These people now will not be arrested, but given a chance to run away if they wish. Now why did I ever imagine that counterfeiting was an anti-national activity?
Rioters and those engaging in causing communal tensions are the bane of this country and now they must be thanking our government for making their job easier. They can indulge in destroying public property, rioting, or vandalising the houses and offices of those opposed to their idealogy…and then crawl back into their political woodwork. Because now they will be served “notices” instead of being rounded up in police vans. Pieces of paper their political masters will tear up and throw away. A rioter can now destroy public property, threaten and intimidate people without prison staring at him in the face. For Section 506 says that “criminal intimidation” entails only a 2 year jail term, and Section 452 says that “house-trespass, having made preparation for causing hurt, assault” entails imprisonment for 7 years and fine. The latter is a serious, non-bailable offence but who cares.
Those goons who create communal tension will also breathe easier. Because Section 295 mentions that “destroying, damaging or defiling a place of worship or sacred object with intent to insult the religion of any class of persons” can be punished with 2 years only. Now, this too is a non-bailable offense, as also the crime of “maliciously insulting the religion or the religious beliefs of any class.” (Section 295).
So lucky for the political parties….they now save the money used for bailing out their goons and build up their kitty ahead of elections.
Wait a minute, wasn’t it the politicians themselves who passed this Bill? Now I wonder if I am being paranoid or they actually had some vested interest in passing this Bill!
Now lets come to molestation (which could well be an attempt to rape), a common enough crime in India. The perpetrators of this crime no longer need fear that they will be thrown into jail. Because Section 354 says that those who commit “assault or use of criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty” can be jailed for a maximum period of 2 years. I wonder what happened to the grand plans of the National Commission for Women (NCW) of wanting to make harassment and molestation of women a non-bailable offence which could attract a punishment which could go up to 10 years (depending on the offence)? The way things are now, if this new Bill becomes an Act, the molesters’ mums won’t ever find out what their darling sons have been up to!
And if we ever hoped that 24 hours in a police lock-up would reform drunk drivers, we can now give up that hope. In fact even those drunk drivers who accidentally knock down people, perhaps kill them, can now be served a “notice”. Free to do it another day because remember duplicate licences are easy to get!
Punishment for minor assaults is also less than seven years…as also attempts to seriously injure someone. Section 440 says “mischief committed after preparation made for causing death, or hurt, etc” can get the offender a jail term of just about 5 years. And Section 323 talks about “voluntarily causing hurt” which entails imprisonment for 1 year, and if a dangerous weapon is used, the jail term is up to 3 years. Notices is what they will all get!
Extortionists, who can be imprisoned for around 3 years, will have a field day with this law too.
Those attempting to rob will also get away because Section 393 says that “attempt to commit robbery” gets the accused a jail term of 7 years. This is supposedly a non-bailable offence!
The least this Bill could have done is exclude non-bailable offences from the purview of this Bill.
Jails will be less crowded
One thing this Bill will surely do is reduce the number of undertrials in prison. This may not be the government’s reason to make such a law, but what else is one to think? Prisons in India are crammed with convicts and undertrials. Although the all-India occupancy (NCRB figures) rates show that the overcrowding is easing up (2006 over 2005), even in 2006 our prisons were overcrowded by 41.1%, and the improvement over 2005 was less than 5%. This improvement seems to lose its meaning if we compare it to earlier figures though. Overcrowding in 2002 was 40.2% and in 2003 it was 39.80%.
It is our slow justice system which is putting such a large number of undertrials in our jails. Here are some percentages which I have no reason to believe have changed drastically in 2008:
Speeding up the judicial system is not something that seems to be happening in the near future, but yes new prisons are being built as an attempt to reduce overcrowding.
In the meantime, there will be this new law… and to look at it from the brighter side, it will benefit innocent people who are arrested.
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