Jan Vishwas Bill
The bill seeks to amend 183 provisions across 42 Acts administered by 19 Ministries to reduce the compliance burden on individuals and businesses with the twin objectives of ease of doing business and ease of living for the citizens.
- Decriminalise certain offences: It aims to decriminalize certain offenses by replacing imprisonment with monetary penalties.
- Under Cinematograph Act, failure to notify film details could result in a fine of five lakh rupees instead of imprisonment.
- Under Agricultural Produce Act, counterfeiting grade marks could lead to a penalty of eight lakh rupees instead of imprisonment and a fine
- Fine and Penalty differentiated: In some Acts, offenses are now decriminalized, and fines are replaced with penalties.
- For example, under the Patents Act, selling a falsely represented patented article may lead to a penalty of up to ten lakh rupees, with an additional one thousand rupees per day for continuing contravention.
- Revision of fines and penalties: It suggests raising fines and penalties for certain offenses mentioned in the Schedule. Additionally, it proposes a ten percent increase in fines and penalties every three years from the commencement of the proposed Act.
- Appointing Adjudicating Officers: Under the Bill Indian government can appoint adjudicating officers to determine penalties. These officers have the authority to summon individuals for evidence and conduct inquiries into violations of the relevant Acts.
- Appellate Mechanism: The Bill also outlines the appellate mechanisms for individuals aggrieved by an order from an adjudicating officer/authority.
- The Bill introduces an Environmental Protection Fund under the EP Act. The Fund will support environmental education, awareness, research, and the expenses of implementing these Acts.
Benefits of the Bill
- The Bill aims to boost businesses by removing criminal provisions for minor, technical, and procedural defaults. This fosters ease of doing business, ease of living, and supports an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.
- Effective, understandable rules are crucial for entrepreneurs, particularly those starting small and medium enterprises.
- Eliminating unnecessary red tape will promote financial gains, reduce corruption, and encourage the growth of these businesses.
- Criminalizing small procedural lapses and minor defaults burden the judiciary and may delay major offense adjudication. Proposed amendments introduce suitable adjudication mechanisms for minor offenses, reducing the burden on courts and ensuring efficient justice dispensation.
- Criminalizing minor acts can wrongly be used by the executive for a show of strength rather than punishing wrongful conduct.
- Several of these Acts originated during the British era, indicating a historical lack of trust in citizens. Addressing this issue of “overcriminalization” necessitates justifying penalties in the law and introducing more flexibility.
- Regulatory burden deters investors due to discrepancies and contradictions in existing laws. Proposed amendments aim to attract more investment by streamlining processes and speeding up decisions.
Issues with the bill
- Certain offenses committed by post office officers, such as theft, dishonest misappropriation, and fraud with postal marks, are being removed. The reason for their removal is unclear since they may not be relevant to the Bill’s objective of decriminalizing offenses to promote ease of living and doing business.
- The Bill removes provisions from Post Office Act penalizes post office officers for illegal opening of postal articles, and others for opening a mail bag, raising privacy questions.
- The Bill provides for Adjudicating Officers to decide penalties and to file complaints in court the concern is whether government officers would be impartial enough to serve as adjudicating authorities.
- With the broad range of penalties and discretion involved, adjudicating cases becomes a quasi-judicial function. The competence of the Adjudicating Officer is questionable in deciding these penalties.
- The Bill empowers the Adjudicating Officer to file complaints in court for certain offenses. This parallel process potentially conflates the roles of an adjudicatory body and prosecution.
- As per a 2017 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the CPCB and SPCBs have sufficient funds, but lack the personnel and infrastructure to utilise them fully. Similar issues may persist with the new Fund.
- The Bill amends the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 providing the manufacturing of substandard drug a compoundable offence, by which companies can get away with a fine for production of substandard drugs.
Pursuing the spirit of ‘Minimum Government Maximum Governance’, India needs to get rid of the vintage laws that were adversely affecting the development of the country. But doing so government should stick to the objective it wants to achieve by this bill, should make the adjudication process independent and impartial, and balance the reducing compliance burden with deterrence effect of the law.
See also: Indian Polity Notes by Rau’s IAS