A failed attempt at decriminalisation



    • Recently, the Union Government tabled the Jan Vishwas Bill, 2022 in the Parliament.

    About the Bill 

    • Tabled with the objective of:
      • Decriminalising 183 offences across 42 legislations and 
      • Enhancing the ease of living and doing business in India. 
    • Aim: 
      • It proposes to decriminalise many minor offences by replacing them with monetary penalties.
      • A unique feature of the proposal is an increase of 10% of the minimum amount of fine and penalty levied after the expiry of every three years once the bill becomes a law. 
    • It proposes amendments to the Acts:
      • The Boilers Act.
      • The Aadhar Act, 2016.
      • the Legal Metrology Act, 2009, 2006.
      • Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.
      • Public Debt Act, 1944. 
      • Pharmacy Act, 1948.
      • Cinematograph Act, 1952.
      • Copyright Act, 1957.
      • Patents Act, 1970.
      • Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
      • Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
      • Trade Marks Act, 1999.
      • Railways Act, 1989.
      • Information Technology Act, 2000.
      • Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002.
      • Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
      • Legal Metrology Act, 2009.
      • Factoring Regulation Act, 2011.

    Limitations of the Bill

    • Undertakes Quasi-decriminalisation: 
      • The use of criminal laws in regulatory frameworks are particularly regrettable. 
      • There is a distinction between regulatory offences and penal offences and this should not be changed or diminished. 
      • Example, the functional distinction between a tax and a fine. While the purpose of a tax is primarily regulatory in nature, a fine carries with it an element of censure and stigma. 
    • Limited Deregulation of  Offences:
      • 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. 
      • The number of offences deregulated under the Bill seems to be a mere drop in India’s regulatory framework.
    • Reversing Overcriminalization:
      • This Bill is an attempt to reverse the trend of overcriminalization. 
      • However, there is much that needs to be done in order to institutionalise efforts aimed at decriminalisation.
    • 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 trust deficit.
      • The bill needs to redefine the regulatory landscape of the country under the Ease of Living and Ease of Doing Business reforms.

    Issues with Overcriminalisation

    • Wrong Tool: 
      • Criminal law is frequently used as a political tool and so the act of criminalisation often becomes a medium for governments to put across a strong image as opposed to punishing wrongful conduct. 
    • Can lead to anarchy: 
      • Governments offer little in the way of justifications to support such decisions. 
    • Rising cases: 
      • The growing number of pending criminal cases share a direct relation with the number of criminal laws. 
      • Also, the rise in the prison population is also proof of overcriminalization. 
    • More fines than punishment can set wrong trend: 
      • The intent of the Bill is merely to ensure that imprisonment is replaced with fines for as many offences as possible. The extent to which it succeeds in ‘decriminalising’ offences, however, is questionable. 


    Way Ahead

    • 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.
    • If these faults are to be rectified, it is pertinent that a more comprehensive exercise is undertaken and that the government prioritise the needs and requirements of the criminal justice system.
    • The time is now ripe to shift focus to existing penal offences as well. There is an urgent need to assess these offences on a principled basis.

    Source: TH

    Mains Practice Question

    [Q] Jan Vishwas Bill, 2022 can be viewed as an attempt to reverse the trend of overcriminalization. Discuss