Shri Amit Shah,
The Hon’ble Home Minister
Ministry of Home Affairs,
Government of India
Sub: Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws
Shri Amit Shah Ji,
We are writing this letter to convey our objections and concerns as regards the constitution and functioning of the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws. This Committee has ostensibly been set up to overhaul the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Indian Evidence Act. In other words the Committee is supposed to be looking at our entire criminal justice system and make recommendations to the government on Substantive Law, Procedural Law and the Law of Evidence. Even in normal times this exercise would require much more time.
When the entire country is trying to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and suffering because of this, any meaningful participation in this exercise by people belonging to marginalised groups, like women and children, SC/ST, minorities, LGBTQ and people with disabilities, is impossible. Indeed, even wide spread public participation is impossible at this time since no one can directly approach this committee and air their concerns and grievances about how the criminal justice system, the police and the courts have been treating the common citizens.
We fail to see the urgency in setting up this committee in the middle of the pandemic when only certain experts and others who register with the committee can communicate with it. Even they, we are informed have to give their answers to questionnaires in not more than 200 words. The questionnaires are ill thought out and arbitrary. Just to illustrate: why selectively ask on laws regarding women such as on Sec 498A and not mention important issues such as marital rape? This is itself shows a bias.
We also fail to see why the committee has to function within such a brief time limit in such undue haste on such important issue that will have far reaching consequences on the entire criminal justice system in our country. It is imperative that the widest possible consultations with all groups should take place. We fear that since this has not been done, the Committee has an agenda for bringing in certain laws which might favour the authorities.
We also register strong objection to the composition of this Committee which consists of only five members who are academicians and lawyers. It does not have any woman representative. Neither are any representatives belonging to SC/ST or any minority or marginalised group members of this committee. These groups are the ones who have been most impacted by the criminal justice delivery system. It is for instance, women’s groups and organisations who have fought long and hard to enhance women’s rights in the criminal sphere, to change or introduce laws and amendments, such as anti-dowry laws, laws against sexual assault and harassment and even laws like those in S125 CRPC apart from many woman-sensitive provisions in the CRPC. However, it is shocking and inexplicable that the Committee did not find it necessary to include even a single woman member.
We feel that the committee should have clearly indicated the changes it wants to bring about through a background note. Apart from vaguely specifying certain areas it has left its intentions opaque.
The committee is undemocratic in its constitution and functioning. This lack of representation and transparency creates a suspicion about the motives for constituting this Committee and whether it really wants to amend the law so that it can benefit the common citizen and the marginalised in our country.
We therefore request you to dissolve this Committee till a proper committee can be constituted and take steps at an appropriate time to constitute a committee with proper representation from all sections, with sufficient time for wide consultations so that it can do justice to its mandate of changing criminal laws for the benefit of the citizens of this country.