Street vendor becomes first Indian charged under new 'de-colonized laws'

Activists protest against implementation of three new criminal laws and order to prosecute Indian author Arundhati Roy and Kashmiri professor Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, under UAPA law, in Amritsar on July 1, 2024. (Photo/AFP)

India has registered the first cases under new criminal laws, replacing British colonial-era legislation, with a street vendor in the Indian capital becoming the first person to encounter such legal action.

The laws came into effect on Monday.

A case or a First Information Report [FIR] was registered against a street vendor in the capital for "obstructing a footover bridge" at New Delhi Railway Station.

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah later said the FIR has been quashed.

Cases were also registered in other parts of the country.

The new laws with Hindi names, including the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) and the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhinayam (BSA), were passed by parliament in December last year but triggered criticism from the opposition as well as lawyers, who had demanded more discussions.

Under the new laws, the government is also empowered to hold "trials in absentia" for alleged offenders living outside India.

If found guilty, their properties can also be seized by the government.


"There are multiple problems with these new laws. Firstly, they were passed in December 2023 without proper discussion in parliament, while many opposition members were suspended," said Professor Salim Engineer, vice president of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, an influential Muslim organisation.

"We support any genuine attempts to decolonise our legal system, but without making the police and security agencies accountable to citizens, there can be no real decolonisation."

The Bar Council of Delhi has also written a letter to Home Minister Amit Shah to delay the enforcement of three new criminal laws.

"It is […] requested that the date for enforcement of these laws may be deferred and, in the meantime, these laws may be comprehensively discussed to bring amendments to be in consonance with the constitution of India," the letter said.

Congress lawmaker Manish Tewari said, "The new criminal laws lay the foundations of turning India into a police state."

"Their implementation must be stopped forthwith, and Parliament must re-examine them," he wrote on X.

Ruling party leaders, however, called the implementation of the new laws a "watershed moment."

"With this, our Republic has entered into a new system pivoted around modern technology and citizen-centric services. These laws place utmost primacy to the safety of women, children and the underprivileged," said Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma of northeastern Assam state, which is ruled by the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP].

Giving judicial powers to police

Previously, it was up to a judge to decide if a case could proceed to trial, but the new laws bolster the power of the police to decide, something Supreme Court lawyer Nipun Saxena criticised.

"Judicial functions cannot be transferred to police," Saxena said.

The code has also been modernised, requiring video recordings to be made at the scene of serious crimes and updating admissible digital evidence.

However, critics say the new laws could create confusion, as they will run parallel to those on trial charged under the previous system.

India already has a notoriously slow justice system, with millions of cases pending in the courts at any time.

Saxena warned the changes could increase the number of cases awaiting trial by "30-40 percent".

"Many crucial safeguards have been omitted completely," Saxena said, adding the new laws violate "at least four articles of the constitution and many important judgements of the Supreme Court".

He said these relate to procedural safeguards, protection against illegal detention, and laws against self-incrimination.

At independence in 1947, India inherited the 19th-century penal code imposed by British rule, although it has been overhauled by previous parliaments.


Source: TRT