Review of the Jan Vishwas Act, 2023

Author: Sakshi Sharda
The Jan Vishwas (Amendment of Provisions) Act was introduced in Parliament on 22nd December 2022 to review the country’s existing legal system and decriminalise petty business offences. The Joint Committee of the two houses was set on the same date, and the report was released on 17 March 2023. The bill was scheduled to be tabled in the Lok Sabha and passed on 28th July 2023, with no discussion and a voice vote while the opposition protested the situation in Manipur. 
The motivation was to ensure India performs better on Ease of Doing Indices. The act has a three-step focus with many ancillary provisions. The first focus of the show is to reduce the caseload for petty business offences by shifting the nature from fines to penalties. While fines are paid to the court, penalties are retribution inflicted for failure to adhere to the law. The act also includes provisions to increase penalties by 10% of the minimum amount every three years. 
While the intention is for penalties to be effective deterrents, decreasing judicial burden becomes an ancillary objective of the act. The act allows redressal for prescribed penalties by appointing Adjudicating Officers and Special Appellate Mechanisms. Yet it remains unclear what would be the mandate and qualification of the same. These bodies seem to create extra-judicial positions in the garb of decluttering judicial backlog. 
The second focus of the act is decriminalisation by removing the possibility of incarceration for petty offences. The act proposes changes in 42 laws across sectors including but not limited to agriculture, environment, and media/publishing. While decriminalising petty offences helps locate the legal system within lived realities of people in a society, it also helps ensure that a large institutional workload does not accrue within the judiciary and helps in speedy response mechanisms. 
The concern remains that the shift from penalisation to hefty fines could result in a pseudo-judicial process where paying an individual’s capacity would create conditions conducive to flouting set laws. Flouting rules and regulations would be easier for established and larger business organisations. Laws and regulations would then only restrict small and medium business owners- disparaging the most basic tenets of equality before the law and freedom to undertake any business.
One also needs to look closer at which acts are being amended and the nature of the proposed amendments. The act repeals all offences under the Post Office Act 1898, which decriminalises the regulation preventing officials from opening letters and posts. When read in tandem with the decriminalisation of disclosing information under the Information Technology Act of 1970, this move creates conditions where citizens’ privacy is seriously hampered. Selling information of users is a common corporate practice for easy access to a profitable flow of income. The current proposed penalty is set at Rs 25 lakhs which may seem like a substantial economic deterrent. However, selling personal data is a common corporate practice, and there is a vast market for personal data. 
Another surprising amendment is the watering down of the Patent Act of 1970 and The Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marketing) Act of 1937, where false representation of an article and incorrect grade designation will no longer be criminal offences. This dilutes producer responsibility to the consumer, which is counterintuitive to meeting the country’s sustainable and responsible business environment. 
The third kind of input is the catch-all amendments. That is, inputs that do not fit the act’s objective and are therefore clubbed together. First is creating the Environment Protection Fund for education, awareness, and research, an identical mandate to the current Central and State Pollution Control Board. The act fails to explain the need for duplication of bodies or the uniqueness of the fund that is now being attempted to be established. Another is the creation of an electoral body for Mutli-State Cooperative Societies, the mandate and the provisionary powers of the same continue to be unclear. 
The Jan Vishwas (Amendment of Provisions) Act, 2023 seems to be a hastily drafted and passed policy initiative. The motivation to rank better on the Ease of Doing Business Indices is misplaced and outdated since the ranking initiative has been stopped due to reports of fraudulent data interpretation from within the World Bank itself. The credibility of the report was seriously fractured after the World Bank reports. Furthermore, the act reduces petty economic crimes to a commodity, where more giant corporations could quickly pay penalties, making the competition harder for small and medium enterprises.