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‘If People Are So Against Sedition Law, Why Wasn’t It Scrapped In All These Years?’

Ranbir Singh, head of the committee for reforms in criminal laws, talks to Outlook about criticisms of its functioning and the scope of reforms.

‘If People Are So Against Sedition Law, Why Wasn’t It Scrapped In All These Years?’
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Ranbir Singh, head of the committee for reforms in criminal laws, spoke to Preetha Nair about criticisms of its functioning and the scope of reforms. Excerpts from the interview:

‘Criminal law reforms’ is a broad term. What specific areas are you looking at?

There is a need to change with the changing times and certain provisions of the IPC, the CrPC and the Indian Evidence Act should be made compatible. We have to look at various aspects of criminal law jurisprudence such as bail, anticipatory bail and protection of witnesses. The sentencing policy also needs review. These are very old laws and we haven’t done any major amendments so far. The IPC is 160 years old and reforms were long overdue. So probably it’s time for the government to look into it. Earlier panels like Malimath committee, Madhav Menon committee and Justice J.S. Verma committee have worked on criminal law reforms, but many of the recommendations have not been implemented yet.

The committee sought suggestions on whether Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC should be amended.Activists have been demanding its repeal.

The sedition law has been there since 1870. Why wasn’t it scrapped in all these years if the people of this country are so much against it? I am neither in its favour nor against it. We will certainly look into the law and give an honest suggestion.

It is felt that the committee is silent on laws such as UAPA and NSA.

I haven’t gone into the details of the questionnaire. We have many research scholars working on it and everything is not in my knowledge. I am not very sure whether we will look into it or not.

There are concerns about suggestions on amending pro-women laws and evidence law.

I will not comment on any specific section. We haven’t finalised anything yet. We will look into the concerns and examine those that are deemed important.

NCRB data show an increase in the number of undertrials over the years, and they mostly belong to the impoverished sections of society.

We will certainly address these issues. We will strive to do our best, and be honest and transparent. It’s up to the government to accept or reject our recommendations.

Legal experts argue that reforms are within the mandate of the law ministry and the law commission.

The law commission has not been constituted for the past few years. It’s the prerogative of the government and they have entrusted us with the job. We have no reason to reject it. I can’t make any comment on whether it will satisfy people.

The committee has a huge mandate of reviewing criminal laws in six months. Is it a realistic target?

The government has a massive mandate. If they wanted amendments, they could have done it without even a committee. Instead, the government has set up a five-member committee to review the laws. The process is extremely transparent. Every detail will be put on the website and the committee’s recommendations will go to the Union home ministry. It will go to Parliament or its standing committee. There will be debates on each and every proposed amendment.

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Lack of representation in the committee has also drawn criticism.

I am not the right person to comment on it. The committee was constituted by the MHA. It’s their call.

Some former judges have expressed concern over the lack of transparency.

We are open to feedback from everyone, so there is no question of not being transp­arent. We are analysing each and every recommendation. After we submit our report to the government, they will again put it up on the MHA website.

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