Law Minister Ravishankar Prasad tells Rediff.com that the government has decided to repeal 36 obsolete laws immediately, but many more will be added to this list in the coming months.
The minister also informs that this exercise was undertaken on the instructions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had flagged the issue soon after he took charge. Rediff.com contributor Anita Katyal reports.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government plans to table a bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday repealing 36 archaic laws in its effort to speed up decision-making, improve efficiency and remove clutter from the statue book.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told Rediff.com this is only the beginning and that the exercise of weeding out antiquated laws will be a continuous process.
“We have decided to repeal 36 obsolete laws immediately…many more will be added to this list in the coming months,” he said.
Prasad said he has written to all the ministries, government departments and the Law Commission to identify such laws so that his ministry can fast-track the process of weeding them out.
According to the minister, this exercise was undertaken on the instructions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had flagged the issue soon after he took charge.
Modi had told top bureaucrats in his first meeting that all such old laws which hold up progress and delay decision-making must be identified and removed at the earliest.
Subsequently, Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth had sent out an 11-point action plan on improving governance to all ministries in which every department was asked to identify and repeal at least 10 rules and Acts which are now redundant.
Prasad said the 36 laws which have been included in the first list were among the 1,382 obsolete laws which were identified by a special commission, headed by P C Jain, set up by the previous NDA government. However, the process of repealing these laws has been slow. Only 400-odd have been removed so far.
Taking up from the efforts made by the NDA government, the United Progressive Alliance government also attempted to identify and remove obsolete laws. In fact, it had even suggested that laws should have an expiry date so that legislation which are no longer valid after 30 or 50 years will automatically be removed from the statute book. However, these efforts made little headway.
The law minister admitted the number of obsolete and antiquated laws could run into thousands. As many as 300-odd existing laws were passed during the British rule while many others were enacted after Independence to handle the post-partition situation.
These include laws such as the Exchange of Prisoners Act, 1948, the Resettlement of Displaced Persons (Land Acquisition) Act, 1948 and Indian Independence Pakistan Courts (Pending Proceedings) Act, 1952, which are clearly of no use today.
In fact, the redundant laws cover the whole gamut, ranging from taxation and labour law to civil liberties.
The colonial-era laws include the Bengal Indigo Contracts Act and the Bengal Districts Act which were enacted as far back as 1836. Then there is the Ganges Tolls Act, 1867 which lays down that the toll levied on boats plying on the river Ganga shall “not exceed 12 annas per hundred maunds.”
According to the law minister some of the laws on the statute book are laughable. He cited the instance of a law in Gujarat which asks the police to record if any pamphlets had been airdropped. Prasad said this Act was enacted during the world war but was clearly redundant today.
Another instance of such a law is The Oudh Taluqdars Relief Act, 1870 which remains alive even though the province of Oudh and taluqdars do not exist any more.
The Indian Treasure Trove Act, 1878 is one more example of an obsolete law which needs to be weeded out. This law requires a person to report to the collector if he or she finds any “treasure” whose value exceeds Rs 10.
Stating that such obsolete laws can be misused, Prasad cited the example of the Sarais Act,1867, which says that “sarais” (lodges) must provide toilet facilities to the public. The minister said a five-star hotel in Mumbai was harassed by overzealous litigants to allow all outsiders to use its toilets as the hotel technically qualified as a “sarai” under the Sarai Act.
Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi