Scrap archaic rules and bring more people friendly laws

Prof Dr Mukund Sarda
Monday, 14 August 2017

Laws that have lost their effect:

-While we have moved from manual telephone to cell phones, we are still governed by the Telegraph Act, 1855.

-Similarly, the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act,1886 was succeeded by a similar Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969.

-However, the latter did not contain any provision for registration of marriages and therefore the older law could not be repealed.

Pune: Law takes birth with the birth of the society; it grows with the society and dies with the demise of the society. Laws are meant to cater to the demands of the ever changing phenomenon and therefore must be revised periodically to weed out laws, which can no longer serve their intended purpose. I am reminded of a famous saying, ‘Flowers may die, and old soldiers may fade away, but statutes do neither’; they live on indefinitely. This certainly applies to Indian statutes.  Laws may become redundant or fall into desuetude (a legal term used to describe archaic and rarely enforced laws), but they retain their force and effect until repealed by successive Legislature or held unconstitutional by the courts.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative to repeal such redundant laws deserves huge appreciation. This can be a precious gift to the people of India on the eve of 71st Independence Day.

Redundant and Obsolete
The two-member committee constituted by PMO, the Law Commission of India and the Legislative Department identified 1824 redundant and obsolete Central Acts for repeal. After careful examination and effective consultations, four Acts have been enacted to repeal 1175 Central Acts. In Maharashtra alone, 64 Acts some of them dating back to 1876, were repealed by the Maharashtra Legislature courtesy the Maharashtra Repealing Act, 2016. 

The current step to weed out the archaic laws is likely to expose acts like The Police (Incitement to Disaffection) Act, 1922, Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920, The Foreigners Act, 1946, Petroleum Act, 1934, Musalman Wakf Validating Acts, 1913, Official Secrets Act, 1923, Indian Police Act, 1861, and numerous other laws, which have lost effect. 

Laws are living documents. They are an outcome of thorough deliberation, debates and consensus intended for the specific subject(s). The exercise of discarding obsolete laws, therefore, has to be equally efficacious to ensure that no vacuum is created in the process of giving away old laws. On similar lines, the Law Commission of India vide its 248th Report recommended repealing of certain Central as well as State laws.

Urgent reforms needed
Apart from discarding the archaic laws, there are several existing laws, which need urgent reforms and warrant equal attention such as questionable provisions in the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Misuse of Section 498-A of IPC, growing abuse of Anti-Dowry Laws etc. 

In hindsight, we regrettably continue to follow the British legacy in terms of procedural laws even after many years of independence. Also, provisions such as ‘Attempt to Suicide’ Section309 and ‘Unnatural offences’ Section 377 of the Penal Code, 1860, failure to apply a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) under Article 44 of the Indian Constitution among other issues have remained unsettled for long.

We have started to embrace new dimensions of laws on subjects as Intellectual property, International Trade, International Investments, Cyber Crimes, Terrorism, etc, and therefore the existing laws, which have remained in our system since ages with structural infirmities, should now be labelled ‘un-effective’ and be removed or amended to keep our legal machinery well oiled.

(The author is principal of the New Law College of Bharati Vidyapeeth Deemed University, Pune. He is triple gold medalist at LL.B., LL.M, and PhD)

The primary recommendations of Law Commission were:
- Identification of Obsolete laws by systematic categorisation
- Simplification of Laws
- Streamlining of Acts
- Replacement of old and ineffective laws with their new counterparts
- Urgent need of laws in the areas like surrogacy, euthanasia, live-in relationships, homosexuals, regulation of higher education, international relations and human rights, etc.

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