The decision to repeal 36 obsolete and antiquated laws this week in Parliament is welcome. This follows the directive given by prime minister Narendra Modi who wants all such laws to be off the statue book. Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has announced that more such laws would be consigned to the parliamentary dustbin. Law commissions had from time to time recommended doing away with laws that no longer had any relevance or use. In fact, obsolete laws prevent smooth functioning of the administration. The P C Jain Commission, which had gone into the subject, had recommended repeal of nearly 1,400 laws but, regrettably, many of them continue to remain valid.
The NDA government had repealed nearly 400 obsolete laws but the UPA government which followed it could not continue the process. As a result, there are thousands of laws which have lost their relevance. Some are of British vintage. To cite some examples, there is a law which stipulates that the toll tax on boats ferrying passengers across the Ganga shouldn’t be more than two anna, which is no longer in currency. The laws enacted with the specific aim of dealing with the Partition continue in force. Policemen in some states have to ensure that pamphlets dropped from the air do not fall in their area—aimed at foiling the propaganda war during the World War II.
The attitude so far has been to enact laws and then forget them. What is not appreciated is that some of these laws can be misused by those in authority. The law in India supposes that every citizen knows it, for lack of knowledge is not a defence in a court of law. This also strengthens the need for periodic revision of laws so that those which have become useless can be brought on the chopping block. A suggestion that needs to be considered is to let Parliament and state legislatures specify a period of validity for any law, say 20 or 30 years, after which it will lapse. This will be a permanent solution.