Three new bills pertaining to criminal law and the Telecommunication Act are approved by President Murmu

The three new criminal justice bills that were approved by the Parliament last week received President Droupadi Murmu’s assent on December 25.

The Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act from the colonial era will be replaced by the three laws, the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, and the Bharatiya Sakshya Act.

The long-discussed Telecommunications Act, 2023, which replaced the Telegraph Act of 1885, which continues to regulate telecom services in India, was also signed by the president. Rules will be needed to enact various Act Sections after the president gives her assent.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah stated that the goal was to provide justice rather than punish in response to a discussion on the three bills in Parliament.

The legislation provides definitions for various offenses and their associated penalties in an effort to completely overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system. These have eliminated sedition as a crime, defined terrorism precisely, and added a new section called “offenses against the state.”

The Act formalizes certain practices, such as reserving spectrum bands for specific uses and establishing dispute resolution procedures for disputes arising between licensed service providers and the government, while essentially maintaining the integrity of telecom legislation.

The Act also gives telecom operators access to more modern methods for obtaining permits to install their equipment in various States.

Digital rights advocates are particularly concerned about the Bill’s potentially broad definition of “telecommunications,” which does not specifically exclude online services like email and messaging apps. Activists had cautioned that this might enable the government to impose more stringent controls on messaging apps. Since then, Ashwini Vaishnaw, the Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, has made it clear that the Act is not intended to be used by the government to regulate online apps.

The legislation also resolves the debate over whether or not satellite Internet spectrum should be put up for auction. The secretary of the Department of Telecommunications, Neeraj Mittal, stated to a group of MPs last week that satellite Internet spectrum uses high-frequency wavelengths that multiple users can use with little interference, making it impractical to auction it off.

The largest companies in the telecom sector, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, and Reliance Jio, applauded the Act but refrained from celebrating it. The Telecommunications Act does not contain a clause that would permit web companies to charge telecom operators a “network usage fee.” Telcos claim this is a financially necessary demand, but web companies contend it goes against the fundamentals of net neutrality. During the Winter Session of Parliament, Mr. Vaishnaw stated that Net Neutrality was a “resolved issue,” suggesting that the government is not giving the request much thought.

Telcos are not pushing for speed on that front, even though it is unclear when the Telecom Act’s subsidiary rules will be prepared and notified. Previous notifications, such as the licenses granted to telcos, are still in effect. But months after the law was passed in the Monsoon Session, the Digital Personal Data Protection Act—a completely new piece of legislation pertaining to online privacy—has not received any notice at all, and rulemaking is still ongoing.

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