New Delhi: Did you know that you could be jailed for six months if you sell more tea than allowed in a single transaction or permit your cattle to trespass on a reserved forest? Or that you could spend a year in jail for “defiling or injuring post office letter boxes”, or face six months behind bars for opening somebody else’s letters? Or that beggars caught in trains or at railway stations could be jailed for a year or fined as much as Rs 2,000?
However, all this is set to change, with the Jan Vishwas (Amendment of Provisions) Bill, 2022 which was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee last December. The JPC is set to present its report to Parliament Thursday during the ongoing Budget Session.
Introduced in the Lok Sabha on 22 December, the bill proposes to amend 42 acts administered by 19 ministries with the aim of decriminalising several offences including minor ones that currently invite jail terms. It rationalises penalties for various offences and proposes a 10 per cent increase in the minimum penalty, to be reviewed every three years.
The bill will amend almost 113 imprisonment clauses in various pieces of legislation, governing matters pertaining to the environment, air pollution, housing, and money laundering among others. The bill’s statement of objects and reasons asserts that “the cornerstone of democratic governance lies in the government trusting its own people and institutions”, and that “a web of outdated rules and regulations causes trust deficit”.
Here are some of the provisions in existing laws that will be either decriminalised or where the penalties will be rationalised once the Jan Vishwas Bill becomes law.
Also Read: Aadhaar Act to Data Protection Bill—Parliament isn’t playing a big role in lawmaking
Tea Act, 1953
The bill proposes to omit sections 38-42 of the Tea Act, 1953, which regulates the cultivation of tea and provides for the establishment of a Tea Board.
Sections 38-42 list penalties for various violations under the law. For instance, Section 41 says that if anybody violates any order passed under sections 30(1) or 30 (3) of the act, he/she may be punished with a six-month jail term or a fine of Rs 5,000 or both.
Section 30(1) allows the central government to fix the maximum or minimum prices to be charged by a grower, manufacturer or dealer of tea. It also allows the government to fix the maximum quantity that may be sold to a person in a single transaction. Section 30(3) allows the government to prohibit disposal of tea or tea waste except as specified by it.
Section 39 provides for a penalty of Rs 1,000 to be levied for the illegal cultivation of tea on any land without permission from the Tea Board, while Section 40 says the court can direct that any tea planted without the Tea Board’s permission shall be removed from the land.
The Jan Vishwas (Amendment of Provisions) Bill, 2022 now proposes to do away with all these penalties.
Indian Forest Act, 1927
Section 26 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, provides for a six-month jail term or Rs 500 fine for anybody who trespasses or permits cattle to trespass on a reserved forest, or “causes any damage by negligence in felling any tree or cutting or dragging any timber”.
The bill proposes to reduce the penalty for these acts to a fine of Rs 500, along with compensation for damage done to the forest.
Currently, anybody who “permits cattle to damage any such tree” in a protected forest can be punished with a six-month jail term or a fine of Rs 500. The amendment proposes to remove the jail term and only allow for a fine of Rs 500 in such cases.
Information Technology Act, 2000
Among other things, the bill finally removes Section 66A from the Information Technology Act, 2000, which criminalised sending “offensive messages” online and was invoked for arresting college students, a cartoonist, and several social media users.
The provision was declared unconstitutional in March 2015 in the celebrated Shreya Singhal v Union of India judgment by a bench comprising Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice R.F. Nariman. The court had then ruled that the legal provision “arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately” invaded the right to freedom of speech, violating Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
However, the provision continued to be used across India by police personnel, trial courts and even high courts. This prompted the apex court to intervene in February 2019, directing the central government to send copies of the Shreya Singhal judgment to the chief secretaries of all state governments and Union territories. In October last year, the Supreme Court once again rapped the central government and states for the section’s continued use, and scrapped ongoing cases under the provision.
Railways Act, 1989
Section 144 of the Railways Act, 1989, prohibits hawking and begging on a train or at a railway station. Such people can be imprisoned for a year or fined Rs 2,000.
The bill now proposes to decriminalise begging on trains. While the new draft provision says “no person shall be permitted to beg in any railway carriage or upon any part of the railway”, it does away with the jail term and fine.
Cantonments Act, 2006
The bill proposes to bring changes to the Cantonments Act, 2006, which provides for the municipal administration and governance of notified cantonments in the country.
For instance, Section 289 of the act provides for a jail term of six months, along with a fine of Rs 5,000 for anybody who, in a cantonment, “manufactures, supplies, carries or uses for packaging or any other purposes material of non-biodegradable nature including polythene bags”.
The bill proposes to remove the jail term and fix a penalty of upto Rs 5,000 for the first offence and upto Rs 10,000 for a subsequent offence.
Also Read: SC might reconsider judgment protecting MPs/MLAs who take cash for votes. What this could mean
Indian Post Office Act, 1898
The bill proposes to omit an entire chapter — Chapter X, with its 24 penalty provisions — from this law. This includes penalties for “defiling or injuring post office letter boxes”. Section 62 in this chapter provides for a one-year jail term and fine for anybody who “does anything likely to injure any such letterbox”, among other things.
Section 63 of the law provides for a penalty of Rs 50 for anybody who “affixes any placard, advertisement, notice, list, document, board or other thing in or on, or paints, tars or in any way disfigures any post office or any letter-box provided by the Post Office”.
Section 69 of this chapter provides for a jail term of six months or a fine of Rs 500 for anybody who “willfully and maliciously, with intent to injure any person, either opens or causes to be opened any letter which ought to have been delivered” or prevents delivery of a letter to anybody.
The bill proposes to do away with all such penalties.
Trade Marks Act, 1999
Under this act, anybody who falsely represents a trademark as registered is liable to be punished with a three-year jail term and fine.
However, the bill proposes to change this to a penalty ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 1 lakh.
Legal Metrology Act, 2009
The bill seeks to amend the Legal Metrology Act, 2009, which among other things, provides for standards of weights and measures.
Currently, the law provides for a first-time penalty of Rs 25,000 and a six-month jail term for subsequent offences, for anybody who uses any weight or measure that is not in accordance with the standards of weight or measure provided by the law.
The bill proposes to change the penalty to Rs 1,25,000 for the first offence, a maximum fine of Rs 2,50,000 for the second offence, and a maximum fine of Rs 5 lakh for the third and subsequent offences.
Similarly, the bill proposes to decriminalise several provisions of the act, including Section 27 (manufacturing of non-standard weight or measures), Section 28 (making transactions in contravention of the prescribed standards), and Section 31 (non-production of documents).
Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006
Section 59 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, provides for a jail term of six months along with a fine of Rs 1 lakh for anybody who manufactures for sale or stores or sells or distributes or imports any food which is unsafe for human consumption.
The bill proposes to remove the jail term and increase the fine to Rs 3 lakh.
Cinematograph Act, 1952
The bill also proposes changes to the Cinematograph Act, 1952, which puts into place the mechanism for certifying films for public consumption and exhibition.
Additional clauses to the law have created new offences under the act.
For instance, the bill proposes to punish a person who alters or tampers with any film after it has been certified, with three years of imprisonment or a minimum fine of Rs 10 lakh, or both.
Similarly, currently, the law provides for a jail term of three years or a fine of Rs 1 lakh for anybody who exhibits “any film, which has been certified by the Board as suitable for public exhibition restricted to adults, to any person who is not an adult”.
However, the bill proposes to change the penalty to Rs 10,000 per person for every such exhibition of an ‘A’ certificate movie to a minor.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
Also Read: How census-based delimitation for Lok Sabha seats could shake up politics & disadvantage south