Law to ‘decriminalise’ provisions across ministries for ease of business

The Center is close to finalizing a new law to back ‘Ease of Doing Business and Ease of Living’ through an Act of Parliament.

The new law is aimed at ‘decriminalising’ imprisonment provisions for minor economic offences/trivial procedural violations/non-compliance in more than 30 business-related laws administered by various union ministries from commerce to environment, telecom, road transport & highways, among others , officials involved in the discussions confirmed to ET.

Decriminalising of provisions under the Indian Telegraph Act, Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, Legal Metrology Act, the Trade Marks Act among others are proposed to be subsumed through amendments under the proposed new legislation.

“This is going to be a ‘decriminalising’ Bill — a law to decriminalise provisions for minor offenses across several ministries/departments. This will be a ‘common Bill’ to amend such criminalising provisions across sectors and ministries — to change imprisonment clauses to penalties/fines. Since there are many laws, it was felt that doing it through a common Bill and in a single shot will be better, something similar to what is done by way of amendments made through the Finance Act”, the official told ET.

Over 80 provisions have been identified across central laws and states which require decriminalization for trivial defaults. Over 850 provisions are under examination for possible decriminalisation. While ministries have been trying for amendments to ‘decriminalise’ in their relevant laws through executive orders, the common bill will go a step ahead.

“Every ministry would need to take each such decriminalization through an amendment in the Law to Parliament. The common Bill will take all such proposed amendments together to Parliament instead of moving multiple legislation. The issue has been taken up with all ministries and those on board will be covered by the Bill. The compilation is under process,” the official added.

The Department of Promotion of Internal Industrial Trade (DPIIT) is piloting the Bill and has largely completed inter-ministerial talks on the same. The Cabinet Secretary is learned to have asked all ministries to expedite work on this and scheduled a high-level meeting this week. The Cabinet Secretary has been asking various ministries to identify provisions which need to be ‘decriminalised’ and to draw up action plans for the same.

A 2021 DPIIT press statement stated that the aim was to “eliminate constant fear of being prosecuted for trivial defaults, while retaining strict criminal enforcement for serious fraudulent offenses that jeopardize and prejudice public interest”.

The issue had figured prominently in the prime minister’s meeting with state chief secretaries in June where a whole session was held on ‘Reducing Compliance Burden & Decriminalization of Minor Offenses for Ease of Doing Business’.

The proposed legislation is in keeping with the larger idea of ​​facilitating ‘Ease of Doing Business’ as well as the ‘Ease of Living’ to “simplify, rationalise, digitise and decriminalise” government-to-business and government-to-citizen interfaces across ministries and reduce “compliance burden”.

Overall, more than 33,000 compliances have been simplified, rationalised, digitised or decriminalised by the central ministries/departments and states/union territories for “ease of doing business in India”, the government told Parliament in the Monsoon session.

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