Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) law is beyond penalties
India's diverse democracy witnessed a unique challenge at the year's end as truck drivers across the country took to the streets in protest. Their target: the newly introduced Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) law, specifically its provisions regarding hit-and-run accidents. The three-day strike, stretching from December 31st, 2023, to January 2nd, 2024, significantly disrupted supply chains, causing concerns about essential goods and fuel shortages.
While the protest ultimately led to a temporary truce and further dialogue between the government and drivers, it ignited a crucial debate about balancing road safety concerns with the livelihood and rights of those responsible for transporting the nation's goods.
The controversy surrounding the BNS law's hit-and-run provision emerged within the context of the Indian government's recent adoption of three significant legal reforms in December 2023. These reforms, namely the Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, Bhartiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill, and Bhartiya Sakshya Bill, mark a bold modernization effort, replacing longstanding penal codes inherited from the British era.
The Although the law is an effort to modernize, digitize and strengthen India’s legal system, the BNS law's specific clause on hit-and-run accidents ignited concerns among truck drivers, prompting the recent protests. In this article, we will delve at the BNS law, highlighting the special case of hit-and-run provision, which has caused widespread distress among the masses in past three days.
Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) at a glance:
Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita is the replacement of 160-year-old Indian Penal Code (IPC). It is a comprehensive code which covers a wide variety of criminal offenses such as rape, assault, murder, and theft of assets. The new law also brings forth groundbreaking changes such as introducing frameworks for digital crimes and artificial technology, legalizing sedition, introducing community service as a form of serving punishment for crimes and strengthening the victims through compensation and rehabilitation practices.
Despite being a bacon of new-age inclusions, certain provisions in the new judicial system, such as reduced punishment for medical negligence compared to other professions and harsher penalties for murders and cybercrimes, have also sparked controversary.
While its streamlining of procedures and strengthening of criminal laws were widely welcomed, the clause on hit-and-run accidents sent shivers down the spines of many truck drivers.
The new provision for hit-and-run cases:
The Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) marks a significant departure from the old Indian Penal Code (IPC) when it comes to hit-and-run accidents. Previously, causing death by negligence under Section 304A carried a maximum penalty of just two years' imprisonment. Hit-and-run itself wasn't even explicitly addressed, with the focus being solely on the death caused, not the act of fleeing the scene.
This lack of specific penalties for those who leave victims behind is inhumane act. This reduces the accident response times and deters assistance to the victims. The new judicial system, BNS seeks to address by imposing stricter penalties and a clearer definition of what constitutes a hit-and-run.
Under the new law, two types of instances are included.
First- where driver accidentally causes a crash, stays at the accidents site and helps the victim. In this case, BNS imposes imprisonment of up to 5 years and fine for causing harm/death of the victim.
In the second case, the driver causes the accident and flees from the site. In this case, the deliberate act of evasion attracts harsher punishment. Under this category, hefty fine of INR 7 lakhs and a decade-long imprisonment for drivers fleeing accident scenes is designed.
This shift towards stricter penalties aims to make drivers think twice before leaving the scene of an accident.
But why has this caused anguish amongst drivers?
Why Drivers Are Hitting the Brakes on the New Hit-and-Run Law:
While intended to deter hit-and-run offenders, drivers feared it could be misused, leading to unfair accusations and extortion.
The anxiety of drivers is understandable since even the unintentional accidents will attract hefty fine. Apart from this, drivers fear that the law can be misused against them, leading to false accusations. But another factor fuelling the distress is lack of correct information.
Our research highlights that false information, such as- “as per the new law the bigger vehicle (like truck or bus) would be held responsible for causing accident” are also circulating on social media. Spread of such news is also causing panic among the drives, elevating their fear.
Is anguish really necessary?
At the heart of it, India holds the dubious distinction of having the highest number of road fatalities globally. India account for roughly 11% of global deaths due to road accidents. In 2022, the average daily death toll from road accidents stood at approximately 460 per day, meaning one death every 4 minutes!
Faced with such alarmingly high number of road accidents, strengthening existing rules was imperative. The law goes beyond penalising the wrongdoing. It imposes a sense of shared responsibility for not only the drivers but also for the passive bystanders. The new law aims to inculcate the sense of active participation by reporting negligent driving and assisting victims in need. This shift in mindset, from observing to engaging, is the missing piece we've been searching for.