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Is the Jan Vishwas Bill will really help in improving the ease of doing business in India?

Pic Source: The Federal News.

There are some provisions in all these laws, which criminalises, which basically means a penalty is imposed on this particular person, and he might be thrown behind bars. So imprisonment prohibitions are present in some of these legislation. So, what is this bill doing? This bill is removing this imprisonment provision and replacing it with fines so, basically, if they have committed a mistake, they should not have been imprisoned for such a mistake. But they are imprisoned under the present laws in order to overcome this particular issue the imprisonment provisions are replaced with fines, that is what is called as the Jan Vishwas bill of 2022.

What was the need of this legislation?

When you look at the laws in the country, we had too many laws, that was criminalising number of people, in order to make sure that this over criminalization laws in the country is reduced that is why the government has come up with this particular bill. So basically, we have the criminal law, which is frequently being misused as a political tool and these people had to end up in the court of law, this also increases pendency of the cases and at the same time, it also pushes a lot of times of these people. So in order to reduce over criminalization in India, what the government has done is introduced this Jan Vishwas bill. So the Jan Vishwas bill will basically ensure that imprisonment prohibitions in some acts are replaced with fines and penalties.

As per the National Judicial data Grid of 4.3 crore pending cases, nearly 3.2 Crore cases are in relation to criminal proceedings. It has tried to say that the growing number of pending criminal cases share a direct relation to the number of criminal laws. Similarly, the rise in the prison population is also proof of over criminalization. As per the National Crime Records Bureau present statistics of 2021 a total of 5.54 lakh prisoners were confined in prisons against the capacity of 4.25. This means that when it comes to the prison, the capacity is way too less. But now, these people are punished, they have to be thrown behind the bus, they have to be in the prison. But then what we see is overcrowding in the prisons as well. So on one side, to reduce over criminalization enlarge, on the other side, to make sure that we do not have overcrowding of people in the prison the government has introduced this particular legislation.

What is this legislation all about?

The Jan Vishwas will either omit penal provisions or replaces them with fines in the legislation. Let's take the example. We have the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) act of 1937, which according to it, counterfeiting great designation marks is punishable with an imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of up to 5000 rupees, the bill replaces this with a penalty of eight lakh rupees. So, instead of imposing an imprisonment, this person will be imposed with penalty of about eight lakhs.

Let me give you another example. We have the Information Technology Act of 2000. So, the IT Act of 2000 has one of the provisions which is Disclosing personal information in breach of unlawful contract. So, there is existence of a contract between two parties, that they should not be revealing any information as part of this contract. Despite the contract having terms and conditions, if one of the parties goes about giving out the personal information, in that case, this was punishable with an imprisonment of up to three years. What did this legislation do? It went on to change and as replaced this with a penalty of 25 lakh rupees. So, earlier provision was that this person will be penalised with three years imprisonment or a fine which can also go up to five lakhs as well or it can be both imprisonment as well as fine. But in the present situation, what it has done is it has replaced the imprisonment with only fine and the person will be imposed with a penalty of 25 lakh rupees. So, these are the primary offences which are basically regulatory in nature. So, all those which are regulatory in nature in couple of laws in the country are now having imprisonment provisions replaced with the fines.

We have the Air Act, we have the Environmental Protection Act, Forest Act, Ducks and Cosmetics Act, Cinematography Act, Patents and Trademarks Act, Information Technology Act all these laws have been brought under the ambit of the Jan Vishwas bill. So, this means that wherever there is imprisonment that was given, this is replaced with fine.

How will this particular legislation help in Ease of oing business?

There are large number of contractual violations, information technology laws, we also have the copyright as well. So if there is any violation, what could have happened, there were imprisonment provisions as well, these are the businessmen or these are the people employed in some of the professions. So if there is a violation, these people had to go to the court of law to apply for bail as well. And at the same time, they had to go to the court of law every now and then, because this would be violating their right to live with liberty, because their right to live with liberty is snatched away if they are sent to the jail so there were a large number of cases that usually go to the court of law. Now, this will get reduced so people used to approach the courts because they did not want the imprisonment.

Now what we have is imprisonment, replaced by fines. So the number of cases will comparatively drop. This will create a much better business ecosystem and individual confidence. So there were fear of imprisonment, even for the minor offences and this was ultimately hampering the growth of all these business people. They used to take some risks as well, only when you take the risk, what you would have is major dividends and profit. But sometimes this could also put them behind bars as well. Now, this is comparatively reduced and what we have is fines that are imposed in all these legislations.

Further, this also causes trust deficit with the business as well as the government. What exactly happened, the government believes in minimum government as well as maximum governance. It also wanted to make sure that the ease of doing business in our country is actually very good in our country. But when you have such legislation, which puts a person behind bars, when you have directors, you have CEOs who are thrown behind bars, for all these cases, it means that there is maximum government minimum governance. So this entire framework was changed, and they wish to change it in the future legislation as well, so that there is minimum government interference, and there is maximum governance according to these business outfits.

There would also be rationalisation of monetary penalties as well. So based on the gravity of the incident, based on the gravity of the offence that is committed by an individual penal penalty will also be imposed. Earlier, you had laws where even if it was a minor offence, even if the gravity of the incident was less, he was thrown behind bars, and there were penal provisions, which are also imposed as well. Now, the imprisonment provisions will be replaced with fines so that this will further increase the morale as well as the motivation to work for the businesses.

The concerns regarding this bill?

The Observer Research Foundation's report titled Jailed for Doing Business found that there are more than 26,134 imprisonment clauses in a total of 843 economic legislation, rules and regulations which seek to regulate businesses and economic activities in India. Yes, the government has taken a step but it has to make sure that there is more in the pipeline. As of now, only 42 laws have been looked into. But there are other state level laws as well. There are other labour laws in multiple other states as well. So the central government which also have to push the state government so that this is taken up across the length and breadth of the country, the central government has made a start so, it has to encourage other state government so, that they also look into the labour laws, employment related laws in the state as well that is when we will be able to make it successful.

When we decriminalise it, we are not only making sure that the ease of doing business is comparatively increased, but we are also revamping the criminal justice system in the country. We are looking at business laws, the business laws where imprisonment provisions are there, are being replaced with what is called as fine. Similarly, a larger ambit of UAPA or let's say for example, NDPS Act, there are few grey areas or certain provisions, which should not be present in the modern democracy, such should also be relooked into and what we have to do is urgently access the need for bringing a change in the larger criminal justice system.

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