The Law Commission has recommended repeal of 72 obsolete laws, saying laws must keep pace with changes in society and economy.
Out of these 72 laws, 53 belong to the colonial era when statutes were enacted keeping in mind the interests of East India Company or the Crown and to curb independence movement. Fifteen of these laws were enacted during 1950s to 1980s when licence-permit raj was prevalent while the rest four laws are post-independence but before India adopted its Constitution on January 26, 1950.
“As the economy gets liberalised and modernised encompassing phenomenal changes brought in almost every walk of life the need for laws to keep pace with changes...become fundamental requirement ....” the panel that advises the government on legal issues said in its 248th report on Friday.
In interim report “Obsolete Laws: Warranting Immediate Repeal” submitted to Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the commission headed by Justice AP Shah said not updating the laws can lead to legal gaps, inconsistencies and contradictions causing serious impediments to the processes of ‘growth’ and of ‘development’.
The Commission, which has undertaken a study - “The Legal Enactments: Simplifications and Streamlining” – at the behest of the government, said the report was first in a series on obsolete laws. It has identified 261 statutes that require further study to decide whether to recommend their repeal.
Keen to repeal obsolete laws, the NDA government has already introduced a bill in Parliament to repeal 32 such laws. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also set up a committee headed by R Ramanujam, a secretary in the PMO, to identify archaic administrative laws recommended to be repealed by PC Jain Committee in 1998.
These laws are outdated and no longer needed to govern a particular subject or the purpose of the law in question has been fulfilled or there are newer laws/regulations governing the same subject. Many of these laws run counter to the spirit of Indian Constitution.
“In today’s times when national economies are increasingly becoming globally ‘interdependent’ and ‘interconnected’, ignoring to recognize the above symbiotic linkages between law and economy can prove very costly to the nation,” the commission said.
Terming it “a step towards modernisation and reforms of laws and of legal structures,” Justice Shah expressed hope that the commission’s recommendations would constitute “a major step in the direction of simplifying the legal structure.”
The Commission found that despite having been recommended for repeal previously in five of its reports, 253 laws still exist on the statute-books. It has already notified these laws to the ministries concerned for their comments as to why these laws still continue to exist.
Noting that 34 laws which have already been repealed still figure on government website, the commission recommended their removal.
It also recommended the repeal of Appropriation Acts that are older than 10 years, saying “This itself would result in the repeal of more than 700 laws.”
“There is urgent need to ensure that laws and legal structures keep pace and are reflective and responsive to growing needs and challenges of the time,” it said.
Some of the archaic laws recommended to be repealed
· The Ganges Tolls Act, 1867 mandates toll tax for boats ferrying passengers across river Ganges cannot be more than two ‘annas’ - a denomination no more in use.
· Delhi Hotels (Control of Accommodation) Act, 1949 empowers government to force hotels in Delhi to provide rooms to it on demand, and to reserve at least 20 per cent of rooms for government guests.
· Foreign Recruiting Act, 1874 empowered government to issue orders to prevent recruitment of Indians by a foreign State.
· Dramatic Performances Act, 1876 empowers state governments to prohibit performances that are scandalous, defamatory or likely to excite feelings of disaffection. It was extensively used to curb nationalist sentiments propagated through dramatic performances during freedom struggle.
· Fort William Act, 1881 delegates power to officers of Indian Army to try and punish persons charged with littering, rash and negligent driving, and disorderly behaviour in public.
· Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922 was used to curb nationalist movement by making it an offence to spread disaffection among the police.