Repealing Dead Laws: Off to a Commendable Start
In his book In the Dock: Absurdities of Indian Law, published in 2000, Dr Bibek Debroy said, there are an estimated 25,000 statutes at the state level and 2,500-3,000 at the Central level that are old, dysfunctional and redundant and deserve to be junked. Speaking at a Moneylife Foundation event just after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was sworn in, he said, “We do not readily know the number of statutes in the country. There is no complete state list, and we can only guess how many state-level statutes there are for all states. Then there is the problem of counting. I mean, whether to count the amended statute separately or not.”  
The oldest statutes still surviving, according to Dr Debroy, are the Bengal Districts Act and Bengal Indigo Contracts Act of 1836 and Bengal Districts Act, Act 21 of 1836, which still have to be scrapped by the state government; 140 other statutes go back to the 19th century and another 200 pre-date Independence. 
These have survived, despite regular efforts to weed out redundant laws in the first decade after India became a republic. After the 1960s, there have been several commissions and individual efforts to identify and repeal redundant statutes through ‘repealing acts’. The first such Act to scrap several British statutes was in 1961; it was followed by sporadic action over the years. In 2001, under the previous NDA government, a few hundred laws were scrapped and the civil procedure code was also overhauled.
The effort has gathered great momentum under prime minister Narendra Modi. Action began almost immediately after he was sworn in. On 5 June 2014, the then cabinet secretary Ajit Seth, in a note to all secretaries and heads of government institutions and public sector banks, had issued a list of instructions outlining the government’s priorities. The second instruction on that list was that each department should “identify and repeal at least 10 rules and processes, and even archaic Acts that are redundant and would not lead to any loss of efficiency.” 
The government has systematically got cracking on the easier task of scrapping outdated laws. In his column in the Indian Express, Dr Debroy said, the R Ramanujam committee set up by the prime minister in 2014 had submitted “a mammoth four-volume report,” which identified 1,741 Central Acts for repeal. Since then, the number of laws identified for repeal has increased to 1,877.
In the past two years, several repealing and amendment legislations (in 2014, 2015 and 2016) have led to the scrapping of 1,178 redundant statutes, mainly Appropriations Acts. The latest of these, The Appropriation Acts (Repeal) Act, No 22 and No 23 of 2016 received presidential assent on 6 May 2016. Appropriation Acts are meant for the limited purpose of authorising specific expenditures. India does not have the doctrine of desuetude (whereby certain statutes become unenforceable because of disuse), or what the Americans call a ‘sunset clause’, which allows a statute to die after it has served its purpose. Indian laws remain technically alive until specifically repealed. 
Apart from hundreds of Appropriation Acts of the Centre, various states and the railways, a few statutes repealed in the latest round include such relics as the Excise (Spirits) Act, 1863,€The Foreign Recruiting Act, 1874 ,The Indian Law Reports Act, 1875, The Elephants Preservation Act, 1879 and The Lepers Act, 1898. And, yet, this is the easy part; the real work still has to begin. 
According to Dr Debroy, fixing and reforming our laws will allow us to “achieve 1.5% more GDP every year.” In a paper titled “Judicial reforms—law and contract enforcement”, he had said, “Most legal reforms since 1991 have been triggered by economic reforms, domestic and external.” There is no such drive or leadership in cleaning up the legal system, despite all the cynicism about it, he was concluded in his paper. 
That is no longer the case under Modi sarkar. And, yet, the work done on repealing obsolete laws has received little public attention, because none of this is really relevant to ordinary Indians. And what is relevant has either not changed or the government has sent out mixed signals. Today, most of us are seriously worried about justice being out of reach of the average Indian because of the slow pace, mind-numbing processes and prohibitive costs. The need of the hour is an effort to overhaul the legal system and to ensure that obsolete rules and scrapped right down to state and municipal levels. So far, only Rajasthan has led the effort by scrapping 274 obsolete laws in May 2016. We need to see the effort gather momentum in all the NDA-ruled states. 
But it is even more important to see action at the municipal level. Consider just one example. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), which is the richest and largest municipality in Asia, continues to enforce a maze of obsolete laws, rules or regulations as a tool of harassment and rent-seeking from business establishments, especially smaller businesses. From white-wash registers (a relic of the British efforts to enforce hygiene), to mandatory cross-ventilation by disallowing office partitions that go up to the ceiling (again, carried forward from the days before air-conditioning), to a licence for shops with a threshold opening to a main street—there are innumerable rules that are cited only for rent-seeking. BMC employees who come on their inspection (collection) rounds, when asked for a list of the rules that a shop or business has to follow, will laugh and tell you that you will not be able to follow them. 
How long does it take a government, which has ‘Digital India’ as one of its flagship initiatives, to put every rule online? Once they are online, the whole world will be able to see how ridiculous the rules are. Our effort to seek permission for an outdoor event in Mumbai at a well-known public space that is routinely rented out turned into a nightmare with a series of permissions that were necessary and a bribe demanded for each of them. There is no public outrage, because the dirty work of obtaining permissions is done by event-managers and is included in the ‘cost of doing business’. 
While legal reform at the state and municipal level has yet to gather steam, what is more worrying is the government’s stand on two important issues. Chaitanya Kalbag wrote in The Economic Times recently: “Twice in the past two and a half years, the Supreme Court has ruled with a 19th-century mindset on vital 21st-century issues affecting personal freedom using criminal and penal codification that was enacted by India’s British rulers.” He refers to a 2013 judgement which upheld Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalising homosexuality and the May 2015 judgement upholding the constitutional validity of Sections 499 and 500 relating to criminal defamation. As Mr Kalbag points out, both are relics of a code drafted in 1837 by Thomas Macaulay. 
But what is even more important is that the government argued forcefully for their retention, when this should have been part of Modi sarkar’s much touted efforts at modernising and overhauling the legal system. So it is one cheer to the government for the good work in scrapping thousands of obsolete statutes. But real reform that will help the people would mean clear and consistent effort to move towards a legal framework that is in line with 21st century needs and mindsets.
(Sucheta Dalal is the managing editor of Moneylife. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2006 for her outstanding contribution to journalism. She can be reached at [email protected])
Jyoti Dua
6 years ago
Very informative for a lay man. Hope authorities in MCGM and State Govt leadership read this article and act to repeal obsolete laws and rules for the benefit of community.
B. Yerram Raju
6 years ago
Dr Debroy is very right in that nobody knows as to how many laws, rules, and regulations absolutely redundant are lying in the cupboards of judiciary. But are we stopping enactments that do not go with a public debate and discussion? Why should we not have a Regulatory Impact Assessment of every new statute be submitted by the concerned Minister at the beginning of the first Parliamentary session in the year? The Impact assessment can be for the calendar year.
Even the latest Acts do not mention the costs of implementing them and how these costs are to be shared between the Union and State Governments.
Srinivas Sreeram
6 years ago
The present constitution is very rigid and has too many formalities to be completed & hence to make one law, you require one year, & to repeal it takes 2 years. The time has come to re-write the consititution in simple & meaningful way. Britain does not have any constitution, but they gave one to us & make a mess of it - ourselves. Set certain principles which guide deliverance of justice. The recent flip flops of Supreme Court on NEET exam is one example. To have a common entrance is laudable. Private institutions are channels of corruptions for the politician for it they who own an educational institute. Private institutes have been giving fake degrees & making money. First they should be continuous raids on such institutions including judiciary who use these archaic laws in their judgement. The judicial activism on "bar dance girls in mumbai" is another case. Employment is a must & basic right. However, it does not mean that one can practise any thing that causes damage to the society. Today terrorism is anothe profession. Paid killings is another profession. Taking such pretext, one can go on killing spree & yet claim immunity. So the society has to be protected. The bar dancers can find some other profession to make their living than being a parasite who is living & surving on other woman's sorrow.
Simple Indian
6 years ago
It's a shame we are contemplating repealing of laws enacted during British rule, something we should have done immediately after our 'independence'. Nehru as PM for 17 long years of uninterrupted tenure had the best chance (mandate in parliament) and ought to have reviewed and repealed all laws enacted during British rule - something our great leaders fought against for over 100 years. Irony is that we not only follow most laws enacted during the British rule in India, but have also adopted their political (Westminster model of democracy), Administrative (ICS->IAS), and legal systems to this day, and yet pretend that we have been 'independent' of the British since 1947. It appears that our great leaders only wanted the Britishers out of India, not their draconian laws and policies. Perhaps, our "great" leaders realized that the laws which the British enacted to ensure their vice-like grip over native Indians, can continue to be used against the same native Indians, while they can be the new "supreme rulers" (as many MPs like to call it). While we celebrate the contributions of various leaders during our struggle for freedom from the British rule, its our leaders since 1947 who have been traitors, unpatriotic, and have been doing the greatest disservice to the nation by using the same crooked laws the British used to suppress us like our erstwhile rulers.
6 years ago
Most of India's laws after 1947 were designed to "fix" those who were talented or prosperous and mulct them for the benefit of the Nouveau Kleptocracy who would be the reliable camp followers, voters and fellow despoilers of the PANGOLIN* rulers of India.

The Indian Constitution that enshrines inequality under law, exceptions to the rule of law and the "Many Nations" theory became the fount of inequity in the name of "Social Engineering" or downtroddng the uptrodden and uptrodding the downtrodden to condemn India to a perpetual state of Civil War. The resultant culture rivals Medieval Europe in having created "Four Legs Good Two Legs Bad" feudal layers of castes, tribes and religions entitled to privileges by birth or affiliation at the cost of the Nouveau Serfs, who are the erstwhile "People of Dharma" ** folded into the "Hindu" lumpen by the British in 1921. These serfs have even been deprived of even their religious freedoms and commonwealth such as temples, treasure, lands, water bodies and educational institutions apart from fair treatment under law in courts, educational and employment opportunities.

The resultant Judicial culture reflects this fully with unaccountable arbitrariness, prejudices, insouciance, incompetence and lack of integrity.

Nothing will change until: (1) Inequality under law and exceptions to the rule of law are expurgated from the Constitution and laws of India. (2) Bribe Taking is defined as criminal extortion or treason and made a capital offense with special rules of evidence and special courts with summary powers (akin to a Military Court Martial). (3) All court proceedings are video graphed and archived for public viewing and can be used as evidence to prosecute Judges and Magistrates at all levels under special laws and special courts with summary powers akin to a military Court Martial, for insouciance, negligence, tardiness, dereliction of duty, disregard for law and propriety, behaviour unbecoming of a Judge such as lack of etiquette and manners, (4) every job on the "Public" i.e. Government Pay Roll has specific and unique Key Responsibility Areas, Key Performance Parameters and Objectives for which they are held accountable on pain of summary dismissal for non-performance or life imprisonment for treason for sabotage under special laws and special courts with summary powers akin to a military Court Martial and (5) India creates an Ombudsman Service of reemployed and retrained military officers (Colonel and Below, JCOs and NCOs) who retire before 50 to serve as presiding officers, investigating/prosecuting and enforcement officers at the afore mentioned "Special Courts", one for every tehsil with powers to arrest, incarcerate, try and punish any and all from the President of India to a peon in accordance with the Special Laws framed therefor.

*Note: PANGOLIN: An enemy of India who believes in inequality under law, exceptions to the rule of law and persecution of some for the benefit of others. At present, the sole purpose of the Indian Republic, Constitutional or otherwise, is to pamper and provide for certain constitutionally preferred sections of society who the British found useful to hold and exploit India at the cost of those who the British hated and persecuted. The Pangolin is a creature that is unique to India and feeds on ants that are known in nature to be industrious and hard working if not quite as fruitful as bees who flee to better climes. (PANGOLIN is an acronym for the Periyar-Ambedkar-Nehru-Gandhi-Other (alien) Religions-Communist Consensus that usurped the British Mantle and has worn it with elan to loot, plunder, and rape India since 1921 and re write History and laws to their exclusive benefit since 1947)

Until 1921, The People of Dharma comprised those who adhered to Aryan (Brahmin) Law that flowed from the Prathamo Upanishad (Karma and Dharma) and the Aryan Constitution represented by the Swasthika. They followed many religions that may be represented in a five by five matrix of convenience. Along the horizontal axis, you have five cardinal philosophical proclivities: Dwaita (self the supplicant and deity the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient) Vishishta Dwaita (Self realized is divinity discovered) Adwaita (Self realized is divinity realized), Shankhya (agnosticism) and Shoonya (atheism). Along the vertical axis, the 64 Tantras resolve themselves into the five cardinal methodologies Shaiva (asceticism), Dakshina (Self discipline), Samaya (balance), Vama (Catharsis) and Kaula (hedonism). Post 1921, those who did not follow Aryan (Brahmin) Law were labeled Dalits by the British, the Law giving priesthood was persecuted, the commonwealth of the People of Dharma, their temples, religious freedom, treasure, water bodies, agricultural and grazing lands, educational institutions, and other common wealth was confiscated and all those who were not Din e Kitabi (i.e. People of the Book driven foreign religions) were labelled "Hindu". The Bhagavad Gita was propagated in the courts and elsewhere as a substitute for the Brahmins who used to interpret the law. In 1959, the PANGOLIN* Indian Republic carried out the British Loot, Plunder, and Destruction of the People of Dharma to definitive affect in what remained of British India and the princely states over which their brutal "social engineering" writ ran.
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