By Harihar Swarup
It is unbelievable but true that there are as many as 3,000 obsolete, redundant or repetitive laws in India. There are over 300 colonial-era enactments in force, which are absolutely redundant. Some of these British-era laws are even derogatory to a particular group and hence remind us of the days of slavery.
Have a look at some of the ridiculous laws still on the statute book. One is Bengal Suppression of Terrorist Outranges (Supplementary) Act, 1932. It was brought to suppress India’s freedom movement. The Oudh Sub-Settlement Act, 1867 still exists even though the princely state of Oudh does not exist anymore. Laws like The Sarai (shelter), Act 1867 does not serve any meaningful purpose now. Under this act, a “sarai’ (shelter) has to offer shelter to passers-by and provide free drinks, like sherbet. A Delhi five-star hotel was harassed under this law.
Another funny law still in existence is The Recruiting Act, 1874; this law was enacted with the interests of the British Raj in mind, to prevent colonial subjects from serving any rival European power. It has long outlived its purpose. Another law—Dramatic Performances Act,1876—was brought to curb nationalist movement, and is no longer relevant in light of our constitutional principles of freedom of speech and expression.
Look how the English people looted India by enacting laws on the name of “His/Her majesty”. According to Treasure Trove Act of 1878, any treasure found on the Indian soil, worth even as little as one penny (ten rupees), belongs to “Her Majesty”. One wonders why such a law was not scrapped years back? Now it is our high and mighty in white collar, who manipulate the system using archaic and unnecessary laws.
India has over an estimated 3,000 central statutes which are obsolete, redundant or repetitive. There are over 300 colonial-era enactments in force which are redundant and not implemented. Some of these British-era laws are even derogatory to a particular group in India, and reminds us of the days of slavery. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has observed: “Some of the laws on our books are laughable. Others have no place in modern and democratic India.”
Since independence, the Law Commission made recommendations for the repeal of archaic laws in 1957, 1984, 1993 and 1998. The PC Jain Commission on the Review of Administrative Laws also recommended repeal of 1,300 such central enactments. However, the first and last serious concerted effort in cleaning up the statute book was made in 2001 during BJP-led NDA Government. The then Government had acted upon recommendations of law Commission and the PC Jain Commission. Since then, there has been no systematic effort at weeding out dated and principally flawed laws.
Many unnecessary laws corrupt ordinary citizens who find it expensive and time-taking to go through lengthy legal process and hence prefer to give bribes. Red tape have been the talk of the town since Modi promised ‘red carpet and not red tape’ to businessmen in Japan. This red tapism has been the major cause of crony capitalism.
During 2014 Lok Sabha campaigning, Narendra Modi promised the electorate that his administration, if the BJP is elected, would make a sincere attempt at statutory legal clean up. He made a commitment to the electorate that for every new law passed, the government would repeal 10 redundant ones. In keeping with that promise, the Modi Government had tabled The Repealing and Amending Bill (2014) in the Lok Sabha, recommending revisions of 36 obsolete laws.
According to the recent reports, the Law Ministry has further identified 1,094 laws which can be repealed, and the Ministry has plans to bring a fresh bill in the Parliament in the coming Winter session to repeal 287 obsolete statutes.
In the light of Government’s initiative to get rid of archaic laws, Centre for Civil Society prepared a report which lists 100 archaic laws which are neither controversial nor have any legal issues that would impede their repeal. Centre for Civil Society (CCS) is a non-profit think tank based in New Delhi. It operates as an independent research and educational organisation. The Centre has been ranked amongst the top 55 think tanks in the world.
Out of these 100, twenty five are British-era laws. Others pertain to partition and post-independence re-organization, unnecessary levies and taxes, redundant nationalization, outmoded labour relations, restrictive business and economic regulations, ineffective governance and administration, obstructive civil and personal interference.
The Modi Government can out-rightly get rid of these laws for simple reason that they are redundant or have outlived their purpose, many have been superseded by a modern law, and few are derogatory to a particular group.
Modi’s philosophy that fewer and better articulated laws would make the development engine run faster is already evident in cabinet meetings when his colleagues push for adoption of ambitious laws finalized during the UPA tenure. PM was irritated on the first day when he was told he could not appoint Nripendra Mishra as Prime Minister’s principal secretary since he was barred from any government job under the Telecom Regulatory Authority Act. Mishra was chairman of the TRAI. Modi instantly ordered an ordinance to amend the Act, which made Mishra eligible for appointment in the PMO. (IPA Service)