Column: Scrapping old laws

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Published: July 22, 2015 12:46:45 AM

The Appropriation Acts need to be taken out of the way first, because they are easier to handle.

More than one person has asked me what happened to the idea of repealing old laws. I am a bit surprised, because that information is in the public domain. It is just that media hasn’t necessarily picked it up. First, the Law Commission Reports. In September 2014, there was the 248th Report of the Law Commission. This gave us a database of 1,086 Union government laws. This database excludes 253 statutes that have been recommended for repeal earlier, but still continue on statute books. It excludes 34 statutes that have been repealed, but some government ministries/departments don’t know these have been repealed. The database also excludes Appropriation Acts. The 248th Report next recommended repeal of 72 statutes and chose another 261 for more scrutiny. In October 2014, there was the 249th Report of the Law Commission. This identified 77 more statutes for repeal. There were separate recommendations on partial repeal and on 11 World War II ordinances. In October 2014, there was the 250th Report of the Law Commission. This identified 73 more statutes for repeal. Without getting into details of how the numbers added up, with these 3 Reports, 258 old statutes were identified for repeal. In November 2014, there was the 251st Report of the Law Commission. With 30 more statutes added, the number of old statutes identified for repeal now went up to 388.

That still doesn’t answer the original question. Commission Reports are fine. What about action? In fairness, after a report, there is a process for repeal. One needs to write to the Union government ministries and state governments. One can draft a Bill for repealing after this process of receiving comments is over. Thus, on May 13, 2015, one had the First Repealing and Amending Act (Act No 17 of 2015). This repealed 35 statutes (mostly amending statutes) and amended 2 others. Then, on May 14, 2015, there was the Second Repealing and Amending Act (Act No. 19 of 2015). This repealed 90 statutes (amending statutes) and amended 2. It is certainly the case that this is an easier

task, getting rid of amending acts. Repealing principal acts is more complicated and especially for 250th and 251st Reports, feedback from ministries/state governments is still pending. But, at least some people know of the four Law Commission Reports. I find it strange that very few know of the Ramanujam Committee, though that information is also in the public domain.

This was set up by PMO in September 2014 and submitted a mammoth 4-volume report, more comprehensive than the Law Commission exercise. Thus, we know that since 1834, 6,612 central statutes have been enacted. At some point or the other, 3,831 have been repealed. We are left with 2,781 central statutes (in October 2014), including amending legislation and Appropriation Acts. Of these, the Ramanujam Committee identified 1,741 central Acts for repeal. (There is a consolidation exercise in the Ramanujam Committee also, but let’s ignore that.) Of the 1,741 statutes, 777 need to be repealed by the Union government; 83 by state legislatures, since these are central acts on state subjects; 624 are central Appropriation Acts; and 257 are central Appropriation Acts on state subjects, which therefore have to be repealed by state legislatures. If one ignores those that have to be repealed by state legislatures, the already repealed 125 (90 + 35) must be benchmarked against the identified 1,401 (777 + 624). True, we haven’t even repealed even 10% yet. But that doesn’t mean nothing is being done. Let’s get the Appropriation Acts out of the way first, because those are easier to handle. There are 902 of those, including Railway and state Appropriation Acts. Once legal opinion is obtained, these will go; it is only a matter of time.

With Law Commission and Ramanujam Committee taken together, the picture is something like this—637 Acts can be repealed by Parliament (once ministries send in their views); 84 Acts have to be repealed by state legislatures; 58 Acts can be repealed by Parliament, but only in consultation with state governments; and 28 Acts that have something or the other to do with state reorganisation, so the views of Union home ministry become essential. Out of this complicated agenda, I suspect one will soon have a Third Repealing and Amending Act where another 197 of those old statutes will be junked. I don’t think the process is taking inordinately long. It is also an exercise that should have been undertaken in 1950, when the Constitution came into being, and not waited for 2015. Having said this, it is important to appreciate another aspect. It isn’t always the case that a statute can be repealed in its entirety. There are instances where a statute needs retention, but possesses sections that should be scrapped. There are instances where a consolidation and harmonisation exercise is required. There are also instances where repeal has to be matched with new legislation plugging the gaps. These take more time than outright repeal.

If media reportage has been tardy on this repealing exercise, it has been tardier on a parallel and ongoing exercise in Rajasthan. The Rajasthan law reform project is not only about labour laws. There too, there is outright repeal, consolidation and harmonisation, of Rules, as well as of Acts. Some statutes have already been repealed and one is left with roughly 600 state-level statutes, 400 principal and 200 amending. At least 10% of the former and 100% of the latter is likely to go soon.

The author is Member, NITI Aayog. Views are personal

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