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Defer new criminal laws which 'immobilize' democratic, non-violent dissent: Ex-civil servants

Counterview Desk

The Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), which comprises former civil servants who have served in the All India and Central Services in various capacities, in an open letter has insisted a review of new criminal laws. Addressed on the President of India and the Prime Minister, as also top leaders of national and state parties and Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha MPs, it urged them to defer the implementation of the criminal laws from 1st July 2024, seeking an all party meeting to develop a national consensus on them.
Stating that this is essential in order to ensure that citizens’ constitutional rights and civil liberties are not infringed upon, the letter underlined, “The new laws are vulnerable to rampant political abuse, especially in today’s vitiated political atmosphere and the intolerance of Governments, both at the Centre and in the States, to dissent in any form and from any source.”

Text:

Our group, the Constitutional Conduct Group, comprises former civil servants who have served in the All India and Central Services in various capacities. We have no affiliation with any political party but are strongly committed to the ideals enshrined in the Constitution of India.
On 25th December 2023, the President of India gave assent to the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita 2023 (BNS), the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita 2023 (BNSS), and the Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam, 2023 (BSA). As notified by the Government of India, these new criminal laws are to take effect in a few days, on 1st July 2024.
These three criminal laws are second only to the Constitution of India in their importance in the daily lives of common people in the country, especially the most vulnerable and marginalised sections. Yet these three new complex criminal laws, which replace the entire legal edifice of criminal justice, were rushed through parliamentary approval without having to face critical questioning by the opposition in a public debate. As a result, a number of valid and important questions about the laws remain unanswered.
Wide concern has been expressed in great detail in public discourse over the last ten months since the drafts of these new laws were first introduced in August, 2023. However, the core issues raised have not been addressed by the Union Government. These fall into three broad areas. 
First, the concern is that the new laws enable governments of the day (whether at the Union or State levels) to immobilize the practice of democracy by over-broad criminalization of legitimate, non-violent dissent and opposition against the Governments, the ruling parties and the forces that back them. 
The second concern is that the new laws will terrorize innocent civilians and honest public servants because they put in the hands of the Government of the day unguided, arbitrary and virtually unlimited power to selectively arrest, detain, prosecute and convict practically anyone they choose, including by branding them as terrorists and as anti-national. 
The effect of these laws, as currently approved, is that, once they come into effect, India will no longer be a functioning democracy
Third, the concern is that the new laws in effect regularise extraordinary powers which should normally be available only in legitimate states of emergency as already provided in the Constitution. 
The effect of these laws, as currently approved, is that, once they come into effect, India will no longer be a functioning democracy.
Suffice it to say that the new laws are vulnerable to rampant political abuse, especially in today’s vitiated political atmosphere and the intolerance of Governments, both at the Centre and in the States, to dissent in any form and from any source. To ensure that the democratic ethos of our Republic is protected in letter and in spirit, we are of the view that it is incumbent on the Government of India to (i) defer the date (1st July 2024) on which the three laws are to come into force and (ii) urgently call an all-party meeting to develop a national consensus on how to take these three new laws forward so as to completely remove all public concerns about the possible negative impact of these three new laws on constitutional rights and civil liberties.
We urge the highest political executive of the Government of India, the members of both Houses of Parliament and leaders of political parties to ensure that these new laws do not hollow out our constitutional rights and jeopardise our democracy. We, therefore, appeal to all of you to take urgent steps to ensure that the enforcement of the new criminal statutes is deferred and the new criminal laws are reviewed at an all-party meeting to develop a national consensus.
Satyameva Jayate
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