The committee has been handpicked by a government whose commitment to Rule of Law is questionable at best.
Even at the meeting where the Union Home Minister announced the decision to start this process in November 2019, he lauded his party’s UP government for improvement in ‘law and order’. On Republic Day of that same year, the UP government had claimed as one of the ‘achievements’ of its first 16 months in office – 3026 "encounters" and 69 extrajudicial killings. Those numbers now stand at 6145 ‘encounters’ and 119 extrajudicial encounter killings. This is just one example of the present government's willful disregard of the rule of law.
The committee’s silence in the face of concerns raised by retired judges about whether the government will have a say in its final report suggests that the committee lacks independence.
On 08 June 2020, concerned retired judges and lawyers asked the committee to clarify whether the government would have the final say in the committee’s report. Several more such representations followed: till date, the committee has not responded to this concern.
The committee is not going through any of the universally accepted law reform protocols espoused by Law Commissions globally, including by the Law Commission of India. Such disregard for protocol suggests that the outcome of this exercise is pre-decided.
Background research to identify issues or problem areas in the law sought to be reformed; publication of an Issue Paper/Discussion Paper based on the background research, the state of the law, and comparative legal perspectives; and wide publicity - are universally acknowledged as essential to foster public deliberation as part of the law reform process. The committee, however, complies with none of these requirements.
The committee is conducting its proceedings – start to finish – during a pandemic when attention is diverted and serious engagement with the issues the committee is dealing with is near impossible.
The committee’s six-month life cycle coincides with a deadly pandemic that has taken more than 75000 Indians’ lives. Covid-19 as a healthcare crisis has now snowballed into an economic and humanitarian disaster with unprecedented job losses: year-on-year Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has contracted 23.9% in the April-June quarter – the worst in forty years. A time of such deep crisis is ill suited to public deliberation and engagement with matters as wide-ranging and with such long-term consequences as a rewrite of criminal law.
Attempting to rewrite criminal law during a pandemic appears to be of a piece with this government’s cynical use of this national calamity – when opportunities for deliberation and resistance are limited – to curtail human rights.
Consider that the government’s constitution of this committee during such a grave crisis follows on the back of its rolling back protections for labour, for transgender persons and for the environment under cover of the pandemic.
The committee is disabling stakeholder engagement through its exclusionary methods.
The committee is operating entirely in English and using only online processes when only 6 to 10% of the Indian population speaks English, about 60% are not active Internet users, and an even lower percentage has Internet literacy of the kind required for participation in the committee’s processes.
The committee is non-representative. It appears to include no women, dalits, adivasis, transgender or queer persons, members of nomadic and de-notified tribes, persons with disabilities, members of religious minorities, representative from the south or the east of the country.
No committee member belongs to a group that is under-served and over-policed by the criminal justice system. Neither the government nor the committee seems interested in the perspectives of oppressed communities.
As a citizen/resident of India, subject to its laws, you must be afforded an opportunity to participate in any reform process - especially criminal laws which have a direct impact on your personal and civil liberties.
Whether as a victim of a crime or an accused or as a member of a society wanting to live in a peaceful society, we all are affected by Criminal Law. So, when large scale review and reform is to be undertaken, we have a right to be able to know the process and be able to participate in it. Because we are the ones who will be governed by these reformed laws.
Call on the committee to disband, boycott the committee, and spread the word on the need to resist the process underway.
Here are some concrete things you can do immediately: