Laws on loan
Delhi has almost a borrowed culture, they say. But did you know that it has 71 laws borrowed from other states? Extended to Delhi from states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Orissa, many of these laws are archaic and proving to be stumbling blocks in the way of good governance.
So much so that courts had to intervene and pass orders to plug loopholes in the ‘borrowed’ laws to make them effective. Experts feel it is high time Delhi does away with most of these laws if it is to attain the status of a world-class city — at the earliest by the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
On why it refuses to scrap these laws, the Delhi Government’s answer is: “We are just 14 years old. Give us time to evaluate these laws”. “We are a young state that got a legislative Assembly only in 1993. So we had to borrow some laws as per our requirement from other states. The legislative wing reassesses them from time to time and the antiquated laws will be weeded out to make way for our own laws,” said a senior official with Delhi Government’s legislative wing.
But there is a spate of Public Interest Litigations (PILs) in the Delhi High Court for indigenous statutes at least on matters directly affecting Delhiites. They seek laws that can keep pace with the Capital’s fast-changing socio-political-economic terrain.
Come every election, the city’s walls are full of posters, bills and hoardings. The Rs100 fine was hardly a deterrent to check such defacement of public property under the West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Public Places Act, 1976, in force in Delhi earlier. It took the Delhi High Court’s intervention to tame the habituated offenders. The court forced the Delhi government to junk the toothless Act and bring in its own law, providing for imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of Rs 50,000. Police consequently registered 1,394 FIRs relating to defacement of property.
Says lawyer Monica Arora, the petitioner in the anti-defacement PIL, “For how many years will we live on borrowed wisdom of others? Delhi now has an assembly. It’s high time the obsolete legislations from other states are overhauled to keep pace with the fast-changing socio-political-economic scene of the national capital.”
Arora says the authors of the Indian Constitution borrowed provisions from the constitutions of other countries, notably England. But they made over 100 amendments later to suit local requirements. Likewise, the Delhi Assembly has to reassess its archaic laws.
According to official figures, there are 85,000 beggars in Delhi, thanks to the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959. VP Choudhury, amicus curiae in a PIL on the scourge of begging, feels the Bombay law ties down his hands. “Beggars are nabbed, produced before courts but are set free after extracting assurances that they will not return to begging or after paying a paltry fine. There is no provision for arrest and rehabilitation. We need stringent laws,” he says.
Hotel owners scored a major victory recently when the High Court scrapped a provision in the 94-year-old Punjab Excise Act, 1914, allowing women to tend bars. Petitioner Hotel Association of India contended the law was a misfit in Delhi. The court agreed, “It is undeniable that women have excelled in the hospitality industry not only in this country but worldwide, and the feminine touch indeed lends grace and elegance to the hospitality industry — which grace and elegance (that) is not inherently suited to the male disposition.” The Supreme Court recently upheld the High Court order.
Likewise, the Delhi Horse Race Club has challenged before the High Court a 1984 notification whereby the Centre extended the Mysore Race Course Licensing Act, 1952, to Delhi, which resulted in enhancement of licence fee from Rs 2,000 to Rs 30,000 per day. “It is true that horse racing and polo is the hobby of the affluent. But the fee in Delhi is too exorbitant and that is why unlike other centres in India, we do not get to see regular activity at the Delhi racecourses,” says lawyer Sugriva Dubey.
Questions are also being raised about the Bombay Lifts and Escalators Act, 1939. This law lays down the provisions for construction and safe working of certain classes of lifts and escalators in thousands of buildings across Delhi. But the paltry Rs500 fine it entails for breach of any of its provisions is considered hugely inadequate to keep escalators from becoming veritable death traps.