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Removing Deadwood from the Law Books

December 29, 2017
10 months

What is the issue?

Voluminous statutory books and democratic progress call for simplifying the existing laws and repealing the outdated ones.

What is the current status?

  • The government has identified around 1,800 laws that require to be removed from the statute books.
  • In the past three years, Parliament has repealed about 1,200 obsolete and unnecessary laws.
  • A remaining of about 600 irrelevant laws still occupies the statute books.

What is the need?

  • With changing social, economic and legal conditions some pieces of legislation may have lost their relevance and utility.
  • Failing to tune with the progress of democracy since Independence, they may have now become archaic.
  • In the absence of a periodic review they continue to burden the statutory corpus.
  • Besides this, some obsolete concepts, notions, perceptions that underlie law-making also require an overhaul with development.
  • There is also a concern that these archaic laws could be invoked suddenly against unsuspecting and otherwise law-abiding citizens.
  • A rationalising process is thus necessary to decongest the statute books and promote ease of governance.

What are the initiatives in this regard?

  • There are concerted efforts since 2014 for cleaning up the law books.
  • The PMO set up the Ramanujam Committee to identify central government statutes that are ready for repeal.
  • The Ramanujam Committee identified around 1,700 old statutes that were ready for repeal.
  • This means that around 63% of central legislation could be repealed without affecting governance adversely.
  • Also, there are four reports by the Law Commission on obsolete laws “warranting immediate repeal”.
  • Besides, the Repealing and Amending Bill 2017 and the Second Repealing and Amending Bill 2017 are pending in Parliament.
  • In addition, a 100 Laws Repeal Project by the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) was launched.

What are the limitations?

  • States - The Ramanujam Committee brought out a database of around 2700 existing Union-level statutes.
  • Of these, a considerable number of laws were enacted between 1834 and 1949 i.e. before the Constitution came into being.
  • These may be identified as “Central” laws, but after the Constitution, the subject matter may have moved to the states under the Seventh Schedule.
  • State-level statutes are not part of the India Code listing (Central Acts of Parliament from 1836 onwards).
  • Notably, in such cases, amendment or repeal can only be done by the state legislatures.
  • Accordingly, the Ramanujam Committee and the Law Commission identified a total of around 150 old statutes that could only be repealed by states.
  • Sadly, only a few states have done something about eliminating such outdated laws.
  • System - A system of desuetude is where statutes, similar legislation or legal principles lapse and become unenforceable with lapse of time or non-enforcement.
  • However, India does not have such a system in place.
  • Notably, unless specifically identified and repealed, statutes are open-ended and remain on the books.

What is the way ahead?

  • Unmaking existing laws is as equally an arduous task as law-making.
  • The role of State Assemblies is also significant and thus a permanent mechanism is needed in this regard.
  • It is better to have a permanent commission in place to review the existing body of law and identify those that require repeal.


Source: Indian Express, The Hindu

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