Unauthorised betting & gambling included as petty organised crime under new criminal code, punishable with up to 7 years imprisonment

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The Rajya Sabha yesterday passed the Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita, 2023, a Bill that seeks to replace the centuries old criminal legislation Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). The Sanhita was passed by the Lok Sabha on 20th December, 2023.

The Sanhita provides a revised criminal code adding various offences, providing enhanced punishment for certain categories of crimes besides deleting certain categories of offences and making the general criminal code modern and in sync with the new realities of society.

Amongst new categories of offences added under the Sanhita (which are not provided for in IPC) is the offence of ‘petty organised crime’. As per proposed Section 112(1) of the Sanhita, “whoever, being a member of a group or gang, either singly or jointly, commits any act of theft, snatching, cheating, unauthorised selling of tickets, unauthorised betting or gambling, selling of public examination question papers or any other similar criminal act, is said to commit petty organised crime.”

Thus, if any member of a group or gang commits any act of unauthorised gambling or betting, he is said to have committed the offence of a petty organised crime. As per Clause 112(2) of the Bill, the punishment prescribed for committing a petty organised crime shall not be less than one year but can extend up to seven years and is also liable to fine.

The Sanhita however does not define the terms ‘gambling’ and ‘betting’ as presumably these terms are defined in certain state gambling legislations. It is not clear whether online or cyber gambling or betting when done by a group in an organised manner would fall within the definition of ‘petty organised crime’. Several states already have their own laws to deal with organised crime and may have certain overlapping provisions with the Sanhita. However, since criminal laws fall within the concurrent list as per the constitution, the law passed by parliament will prevail over state legislation in case of any repugnancy or conflict.

The Sanhita under proposed Section 297 also imposes a punishment for keeping a lottery office, not being a lottery authorised by the state government or run by the state government. The punishment for keeping an unauthorised lottery office may extend up to six months or with fine. This provision is verbatim the same as Section 294A of IPC.

Interestingly, the earlier version of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita introduced by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Lok Sabha on 11th August, 2023 did not have an expansive definition of petty organised crime and the words ‘unauthorised betting and gambling’ were not included. However, the revised version of the legislation introduced this month, after a report by the parliamentary standing committee included the words ‘unauthorised gambling and betting’.

The Sanhita, which has now been passed by both houses of parliament awaits the assent of the President. The Sanhita, however, will not come into force immediately after the assent of the President but will come into force on such date as the central government may by gazette notification appoint, with the option of the central government notifying different dates for bringing different provisions into force.