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Thursday, April 22, 2021

In Lok Sabha, govt introduces changes to juvenile Act, mines law

It has introduced a separate category of “serious crimes’’ apart from the existing “petty crimes” and “heinous crimes” to ensure that fewer minors are tried as adults in most cases.

Written by Liz Mathew , Esha Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: March 16, 2021 3:08:34 am
Contest from Gujarat: Smriti Irani dares Rahul GandhiSmriti Irani (File)

The Government on Monday introduced a Bill in the Lok Sabha to amend the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, seeking to increase the role of district magistrates and additional district magistrates in supervising various aspects of the law.

It has introduced a separate category of “serious crimes’’ apart from the existing “petty crimes” and “heinous crimes” that will ensure that fewer minors are tried as adults in most cases.

For a juvenile to be tried for a “heinous crime” as an adult, the punishment of the crime should not only have a maximum sentence of seven years or more, but also a minimum sentence of seven years. However, with no mention of a minimum sentence, and only the maximum seven year sentence, juveniles between the ages of 16-18 years could also be tried as adults for a crime like the possession and sale of an illegal substance, such as drugs or alcohol, which will now fall under the ambit of a “serious crime’’.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor opposed the introduction of the Bill arguing that the clauses are in violation of constitutional provisions on separation of powers and that it would erode the powers of the judiciary.

Rejecting Tharoor’s argument, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said the changes were brought in after consultation with the stakeholders, including the state governments, and it “would be a great disservice to this Bill if it is only looked myopically from the instances that have just been enunciated by the honourable member (Tharoor)”.

According to Irani, even the Supreme Court had identified the gap in terms of identification of a separate class of offences which is now part of the amendment. “There was a positioned officer called the District Child Protection Officer who had the challenge of convening all officers within the district to protect children in a better manner in each district. It was felt incumbent upon administrations, both at the Centre and at the States, to empower officially the District Magistrate,” she said.

“Additionally, the Child Welfare Committee is being empowered with regard to qualifications of those who seek to serve in such a Committee. In totality, this is an amendment which helps to protect our children in a better manner,” the minister said.

One of the main provisions of the 2015 Act was allowing the trial of juveniles in conflict with law in the age group of 16-18 years as adults, in cases where the crimes were to be determined. The nature of the crime, and whether the juvenile should be tried as a minor or a child, was to be determined by a Juvenile Justice Board. It also streamlined adoption procedures for orphans, abandoned and surrendered children.

Tharoor maintained that the amendment violates the constitutional principle of separation of powers as it assigns the responsibility of issuing an adoption order to a District Magistrate rather than the Civil Court. “An adoption order, under Section 61 of the principal Act, requires a deliberation on the welfare of the child and creates legal rights for the child and the adoptive parents,” Tharoor said, adding that the government should have consulted stakeholders, NGOs and experts on the changes.

Meanwhile, Minister of Coal and Mines Pralhad Joshi, introduced amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2021, aiming at bringing in reforms in the mine sector, making a large number of mines available for auctions. The changes, once becomes law, would make it possible conducting future auctions of mineral mines without a captive use restrictions and to allow existing captive coal mines to sell up to half of their production.

Tharoor raised objections to the introduction of this Bill too saying it fails to acknowledge the adverse impact on environment and biodiversity, is a threat on lives of people residing close to the mines, and impinges on the federal structure of the states.

Joshi said the regulation of mines, mineral development is under the control of the Central government as per the Constitution. He said the Bill also has clauses for payment of an additional amount to a state government for the extension and grant of mining lease of government companies.

Union Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister D V Sadananda Gowda introduced the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (Amendment) Bill, 2021. It seeks to grant the status of national importance to six institutes in Ahmedabad, Guwahati, Hajipur, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Raebareli.

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