Work begins on updating archaic laws
It is no secret that Indian laws are archaic. But few know that the number of such laws runs to thousands — Parliament has enacted more than 3,500 laws and state legislatures almost 25,000 to date.
Successive governments have thought of changing or doing away with such laws but have never managed to go beyond the 'thinking'.
The Union law ministry has finally set the ball rolling. The statute book, clogged with obsolete laws, is being updated. The ministry is trying to include recommendations by law
and administrative commissions and suggestions by MPs among others.
A senior law ministry official said members were debating whether it would be feasible and better to have laws with expiry dates. If it so
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Manish Tiwari — Congress spokesman and MP from Ludhiana, who is also a lawyer — first mooted the idea. "We could say that a law would be valid for 25 or 50 years… it would automatically get repealed if not extended or updated," he said.
The proposal, if okayed, would remedy the current situation where we are living with laws that were passed in some other era. At least 174 laws were passed before 1900 when India was under the British rule. Other examples are the Indian Penal Code that dates back to 1860, the Evidence Act to 1872, the Contract Act to 1872, and the Land Acquisition Act to 1894. Recently, the government has begun the process of replacing this land act to suit modern needs.
Salman Khursheed, law minister, said work on updating the statue book had begun. The ministry would try to evolve a consensus on laws with expiry dates, he said. Also, discussions are on to do away with laws that have remained unused for the past 15-20 years.
There is no point in having laws that the public are not aware of, he said. Keeping them dormant on the statue book would serve no purpose. "We are in the process of computerising and digitalising everything," Khursheed said. "Once it is done, it will be lot easier to spot such laws that have become redundant over time."
At least 199 laws are 100 years old and they are of little or no use today, he said. Many such as the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 or the Indian Trust Act, 1882, and the Negotiable Instrument Act (for banks), 1881 need to be in sync with modern times, he said.
The NDA government had tried to weed out obsolete laws by appointing a special commission, headed by PC Jain, in 1998. The commission identified at least 1,382 for repeal, but only 415 of have been repealed to date; 17 are in various stages of repeal and nine are still being examined.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act, introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960, allows poachers and animal killers to go free by paying a paltry fine of Rs50.
The PC Jain commission had identified 166 central acts and 315 amendment acts that need to be dropped from the statute book apart from 11 British statutes still in force and 17 wartime permanent ordinances and 35 acts enacted after Independence to re-organise states.
The Sarai Act, 1867
Some years ago, a district magistrate used it to warn a hotel in Mughalsarai for allowing Aamir Khan to stay incognito. The act makes it mandatory for a sarai (hotel, guesthouse) keeper to verify a person’s identity before allowing him/her to stay
Ganges Toll Act, 1867
Authorities can impose a levy on steamers and boats plying between Allahabad and Dinapur, not exceeding 12 annas. This act remains along with National Waterway Act, 1982
Fort William Act, 1881
Article III of this act says Fort William and the Maidan (both are in Kolkata) should be a no-nuisance land. “It shall be the duty of every police officer, non-commissioned officer or military policemen to arrest, without a warrant, anyone who commits any of these offences — throwing dirt or rubbish into the drains or upon the roads or the Maidan
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