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President Gives Assent to New Criminal Laws, Telecommunication Act

President Gives Assent to New Criminal Laws, Telecommunication Act

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Dec 25: The President Droupadi Murmu on Monday gave her assent to the three new crime laws which would replace the British era criminal acts and the Telecommunications Act, 2023, which would come into force once the rules under various sections are framed.

The three bills which were cleared by Parliament during the just-concluded winter session, largely in the absence of the opposition parties who were suspended for creating ruckus in the House demanding a statement from the Union home minister on the recent security breach in Parliament, included the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita and the Bharatiya Sakshya Act. The new laws would replace the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act of 1872 respectively, all framed when the British ruled over India.

While replying to the debate on the three bills in Parliament, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had said the focus were on delivering justice rather than handing down punishment. The legislation aim at completely overhauling the criminal justice system in the country by giving definition of various offences and their punishments. These have given a clear definition of terrorism, abolished sedition as a crime and introduced a new section titled “offenses against the state.”

The President also signed the Telecommunications Act, 2023, the Union government’s long-discussed successor to the Telegraph Act of 1885 that has till now governed telecom services in India. The Act largely leaves telecommunications law intact, while formalising certain practices like reserving spectrum bands for different purposes and instituting dispute resolution measures for conflicts between licensed service providers and the government. The Act also provides for newer ways for telecom operators to obtain permissions to set up their equipment in different States.

The main addition that has worried digital rights advocates is the potentially wide berth given to the term ‘telecommunications’ in the Bill, which doesn’t explicitly exclude online services such as email and messaging apps. This could allow the government in the future to impose stricter controls on messaging apps, activists had warned. Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw has since clarified that the government doesn’t intend to regulate online apps through the Act.

The law also settles the question on whether spectrum for satellite Internet should be auctioned or not. Neeraj Mittal, the Department of Telecommunications’ Secretary, told a gathering of MPs last week that it was not practical to auction satellite Internet spectrum, as it uses high frequency wavelengths that can be used by multiple users without much interference.

The telecommunications industry’s biggest firms — Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio — welcomed the Act but were none too happy as the new act did not provide for a ‘network usage fee’ to be paid by web firms to telecom operators. The telecommunication firms had been arguing that such a provision was financially necessary but web firms have argued it violated the principles of Net Neutrality. Mr Vaishnaw had told Parliament during the Winter Session that Net Neutrality was a “resolved issue,” indicating that the government was not in favour of the demand from the big firms.

While it is unclear when the Telecom Act’s subordinate rules will be prepared and notified, previous notifications — such as licences issued to telcos — remain valid, so telcos are not pressing for speed on that front. However, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act, an entirely fresh legislation on online privacy, has not been notified at all, and rulemaking remains pending months after the law was passed in the Monsoon Session of Parliament.

 

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