Weed out archaic laws for better governance, enforcement

Written by Indu Bhan | Indu Bhan | Updated: Oct 17 2014, 06:05am hrs
The Law Commission in its second interim reportThe Legal Enactments: Simplification and Streamlininghas recommended 88 laws and permanent ordinances promulgated during World War II for immediate repeal and the 25 state reorganisation laws for partial repeal as they have become irrelevant and obsolete as of now.

In the first instalment of the studyObsolete Laws: Warranting Immediate Repealthe Commission had last month identified and recommended for repeal such 72 laws. Even the law ministry has identified for deletion at least 287 amending and 700-plus appropriation Acts that still clutter the statute books even after their provisions have been incorporated in the principal Acts.

While a Bill is likely to be presented in the Winter Session of Parliament to repeal 287 archaic laws, Law Commission chairman, justice AP Shah, has already begun examining another 167 old laws and he intends to submit its third report by November-end. Obsolete, irrelevant and archaic laws remaining on the statute books still remain muddled and outmoded. There is urgent need to ensure that laws and legal structures keep pace and are reflective and responsive to growing needs and challenges of the time, he said.

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appointed a new committee for a focused and result-oriented exercise to systematically weed out archaic laws and rules that hamper governance. A similar panel appointed during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1998 had recommended repeal of 1,382 Acts, out of which only 415 have been repealed so far.

Repeal by the Law Commission was recommended only after ensuring that the laws were inconsistent with modern and newer laws, with Supreme Court judgments and international conventions signed and ratified by India.

Here are some of the obsolete laws that were identified for repeal.

Tobacco Duty (Town of Bombay) Act, 1857, relates to the duties payable on the retail sale and warehousing of tobacco in Bombay. The Act has now fallen into disuse as tobacco duties are imposed under the Central Excise Act, 1944.

Excise (Spirits) Act, 1863, provided for the levy of excise duty payable on spirits used exclusively in arts and manufactures or in chemistry. This now falls under the category of industrial alcohol under the Central Excise Tariff Act, 1985, thus redundant.

Excise (Malt Liquors) Act, 1890, applied the provisions of the Sea Customs Act, 1878, to malt liquors. The Sea Customs Act has been repealed by the Customs Act of 1962.

Madras Compulsory Labour Act, 1858, made it lawful to compel labourers to prevent and repair any mischief by inundations caused by sudden breach of embankments of tanks, rivers and canals in the Presidency of Fort St George in Madras. Although enacted prior to Independence, there is an urgent need to repeal or amend this law as it goes against rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

Land Improvement Loans Act, 1883, consolidated and amended the law relating to loans for agricultural improvements, which meant construction of wells, preparation of land for irrigation, etc, and also laid down the procedure for granting of loans and recovery. Every state now has a Land Mortgage Bank Act which authorises the setting up of a land mortgage bank to help carry out agricultural improvements, hence it has lost relevance.

Levy Sugar Price Equalisation Fund Act, 1976, provided for the establishment, in the interest of the general public, of a fund to ensure that the price of levy sugar may be uniform throughout India. In view of the ongoing process of deregulating sugar, the Union Cabinet in 2013 approved the removal of levy sugar, initially for a period of two years. The need for this Act is, therefore, being done away with.

Indian Iron and Steel Company (Acquisition of Shares), 1976, provided for the acquisition of certain shares of the Indian Iron and Steel Company Limited (IISCO) with a view to securing the proper management of the affairs of the company. Pursuant to the acquisition, IISCO is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Steel Authority of India. The purpose of the 1976 Act was only the transfer of shares of IISCO to the central government which has already been fulfilled and, hence, the Act is not required now.

Though repeal may have only a small impact in economic terms, the long-needed overhaul is required to cull out laws that impose heavy burden and whose costs outweigh their benefits and thus are in need of simplification, amendments or repeal. Besides, it will also help in reducing the pendency in courts which, to some extend, is the result of many such archaic laws. This may also ensure that there are no conflicting interpretations of laws on the same subject. The government, therefore, must remove the deadwood from its legal structure and pave way for simple laws for better governance and easy enforcement.