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Prelims Syllabus : Polity & Governance - Governance Mains Syllabus : GS-II Governance

Why in News?

  • The Home Ministry is all set to overhaul the Indian Penal Code designed by the British. Rebooting the code introduced by the British in 1860 was necessary as it is primarily based on the spirit of “master and servant”.

Efforts taken by the Government:

  • Home Ministry has written to all States and Union Territories seeking suggestions to amend various sections of the IPC.
  • The ministry has also set up two committees comprising legal luminaries to look into the issue.

 About IPC:

  • The Indian Penal Code (IPC) is the official criminal code of India. It is a comprehensive code intended to cover all substantive aspects of criminal law.
  • The code was drafted in 1860 on the recommendations of first law commission of India established in 1834 under the Charter Act of 1833 under the Chairmanship of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay.
  • The IPC replaced Mohammedan Criminal Law, which had a very close relationship with Islam. Thus, the IPC laid the foundation of secularism.
  • It came into force in British India during the early British Raj period in 1862. However, it did not apply automatically in the Princely states, which had their own courts and legal systems until the 1940s.
  • The Code has since been amended several times and is now supplemented by other criminal provisions.

How significant it is?

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

  • Since it has been introduced in the year of 1860, that is almost 150 years back, it has failed to keep pace since then.
  • Macaulay had himself favoured regular revision of the code whenever gaps or ambiguities were found or experienced.
  • No comprehensive revision of IPC has been undertaken, even though the IPC has been haphazardly amended more than 75 times.
  • Most of the amendments have been ad hoc and reactive, in response to immediate circumstances like the 2013 amendment after the Delhi gangrape case.
  • The 42nd report of the law commission in 1971 has also recommended for a complete revisit of the IPC.

Areas that Need Reforms:

  • Some of the concepts underlying the code are either problematic or have become obsolete.
  • Sedition law (Section 124A): A re-examination of the sedition law, inserted in 1898, is necessary.
  • Blasphemy law: 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.
  • Culpable Homicide: The distinction between “culpable homicide” and “murder” was criticised even by Stephen as the “weakest part of the code”, as the definitions are obscure.
  • Sec 497 (Adultery): 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(Homosexuality): The section has been in news as voices being raised against its being in violation of human rights, harassment and violence against LGBT community. The LGBT community and a part of society wants this section to be repealed. The issue has been sub-judice several times.
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