We somehow have a propensity to cling on to possessions that we do not need or even things that have outlived their utility. Shedding off extras and tidying up our tools has somehow not been our forte and that reflects not only in our personal life but also in our professional pursuits. Even Indian legislators, considered to be leaders in their own right and guardians of law and its standardisation in the biggest democracy on earth are no exception to this rule. Rather, they fail abjectly on this count.
In such an overall gloomy context, it is heartening to find a new awareness on the horizon for the Indian State on this subject with the announcement that the government is trying to bring in nearly 200 legislations for repeal. Here’s hoping that in shedding antiquated and obsolete set of rules and laws, the noble exercise will also keep the fundamental principle of “people’s empowerment” as the basic postulate to filter through the maze and scrape the laws that do not conform to this principled approach.
To elucidate, it is unfortunate that the fundamental dynamics of enacting laws in India is flawed, since it empowers the political class or the bureaucracy, either at the lower level or in the top echelons, while the citizens of India are disempowered. The legislations are drafted and presented by the administration from lower bureaucracy to the political class in authority, in most cases to serve their own interests. Since the rudimentary thought process for enacting laws is born out of bureaucracy, to a great extent, the original format gets carried to Parliament and state assemblies. Further, the Bills presented to Parliament or state legislatures are hardly discussed or debated, what to talk of threadbare scrutiny of each legislation.
Even when they are debated in Parliament and assemblies, it’s rarely assessed whether the aims and objectives laid down in the Bill are crucial to people’s empowerment or not and will these ever be served. A singular indictment in the entire exercise is that the objectives of the Bill are never the core of discussion, and empowering people is never at the substratum on which the exercise must stand. Given the broad agreement in the world and what people have expressed, it is a sad reality that India’s bureaucracy is a stumbling block primarily in the implementation of a just and fair legal system. There are remote possibilities that a small number of legislations such as the Right to Information (RTI) Act, which empower the people directly, may sneak through because of the media hype and support from activists. However, that is extremely rare and an exception rather than a rule.
Why our laws are forever?
To add insult to the injury is a ludicrous situation in the country that the legislations passed by its Parliament and assemblies are almost forever, although the average life of a law is 65 years. The law must serve the needs of the people, and as a necessary corollary, be also able to adapt to situations thrown up by changing times and society. It can’t stay stagnant and continue to be detrimental to people. Society changes its views over time, as citizens change their values. Along with the responsibility of enacting laws to empower people, the lawmakers also have the duty to identify and study shifts in values, behaviours and expectations; and must consider whether new or amended laws are required, and if so, should either amend or scrap them.
Law-making bodies in most parts of the world have a system to keep going back to the legislations they enacted and evaluate their continuing efficacy or otherwise. Such an exercise ensures that they are moving with the times and also bringing up ideas and thoughts about where those legislations need to be extended or amended, or even repealed if these have outlived their purpose.
The British example
To illustrate from the experience of Britain, a citadel of democracy, it is the question-answer session in Parliament where members analyse and evaluate the enduring efficacy of legislation passed in the august House. This particular motion of question-answer session is, inter alia, meant to discover whether legislation passed by them has actually been able to address the issues for which the relevant statute was made or it has created more problems in its application. As has happened many times, the British Parliament has either amended or scrapped its legislations on the basis of these discussions, recognising the effects of changing times and in keeping with the country’s mood. We don’t find even a single legislation in our Parliament or state assemblies where the question-answer session has either brought any amendment, let alone the scrapping of any legislation.
There are democracies where all legislation has a sunset clause, and the people in those countries are not bound by those laws after the predefined date. When the sunset clause goes active, there will be either an automatic review or a scrapping. The consequences of legislations in their journey after birth in Parliament are permanently in the process of being discussed by the general public and reflect in their reactions to it. The Parliament, having passed the law, should not consider itself infallible so as not to revisit or take a relook; or think that its duty ends once it has framed the law. This sunset clause will determine the quantum of life that legislation will have, and when it needs to be scrapped.
The reconsideration of laws by the state is not a sign of its incompetency but an open-hearted gesture of being cognisant and alive to the emerging new realities, while always keeping the fundamental motto of people’s empowerment as the basis of all legislation. Let’s hope the exercise being attempted now does a good job of it.