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SANSAD TV: PERSPECTIVE- 160 YEARS OF INDIAN PENAL CODE

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Introduction:

Formed in 1862, the Indian Penal Code completes 160 years of its existence. One of the prominent remains of the British era, IPC has been a part of Indian society. It has served society according to its needs and has been able to keep pace with the changing face of crime.

IPC:

  • The IPC replaced Mohammedan Criminal Law, which had a very close relationship with Islam. Thus, the IPC laid the foundation of secularism.
  • It was widely appreciated as a state-of-the-art code and was, indeed, the first codification of criminal law in the British Empire.

 Significance of it:

Today, it is the longest serving criminal code in the common-law world.

  • Paying a compliment to Macaulay’s masterpiece, James Stephen had remarked that “The Indian Penal Code is to the English criminal law what a manufactured article ready for use is to the materials out of which it is made. It is to the French Penal Code and, I may add, to the North German Code of 1871, what a finished picture is to a sketch.”
  • Today, most of the commonwealth follows the IPC and legislators would find it difficult to improve it in terms of precision, comprehensibility, comprehensiveness and accessibility.

Why it needs a review?

IPC, 1860 requires a thorough revision to meet the needs of the 21st century. In 1860, the IPC was certainly ahead of the times but has been unable to keep pace since then.

  • Macaulay had himself favoured regular revision of the code whenever gaps or ambiguities were found or experienced.
  • Even though the IPC has been haphazardly amended more than 75 times, no comprehensive revision has been undertaken in spite of the 42nd report of the law commission in 1971 recommending it — the amendment bills of 1971 and 1978 lapsed due to the dissolution of the Lok Sabha.
  • Most amendments have been ad hoc and reactive, in response to immediate circumstances like the 2013 amendment after the Delhi gangrape case.

 Areas that need reforms:

Some of the concepts underlying the code are either problematic or have become obsolete.

  • A re-examination of the sedition law, inserted in 1898, is necessary.
  • The offence of blasphemy should have no place in a liberal democracy and, therefore, there is a need to repeal Section 295A, which was inserted in 1927.
  • Criminal conspiracy was made a substantive offence in 1913. The offence is objectionable because it was added to the code by the colonial masters to deal with political conspiracies.
  • Under Section 149 on unlawful assembly, the principle of constructive liability is pushed to unduly harsh lengths.
  • The distinction between “culpable homicide” and “murder” was criticised even by Stephen as the “weakest part of the code”, as the definitions are obscure.
  • Sexual offences under the code reveal patriarchal values and Victorian morality. Though the outmoded crime of adultery gives the husband sole proprietary rights over his wife’s sexuality, it gives no legal protection to secure similar monopoly over the husband’s sexuality.
  • Section 377 also needs a review.