Updated: October 28, 2014 10:43:36 am
What can you say of laws that impose a fine of only Rs 500 on a person who kills an elephant, permit the Director of Estates to reserve one-fourth of Delhi’s hotel accommodation for official use, or allow religious converts but not their spouses to initiate divorce proceedings?
These laws, many enacted more than a century and half ago, still exist in Indian statute books.
Submitting an interim report, “Obsolete Laws: Warranting Immediate Repeal”, last month to Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Law Commission expressed the hope that its “suggestions and recommendations… would constitute a major step in the direction of simplifying the legal structure”.
Days later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking at Madison Square Garden, said he would do away with one obsolete law every day and recalled how earlier governments took pride in ensuring more and more complex laws.
In its report, the Law Commission, chaired by Justice A P Shah, said “253 laws despite having been recommended for repeal” by earlier panels still exist in statute books. It has asked for removal of 34 laws that have been repealed but remain listed on the government website, and recommended 72 statutes for repeal after examining a list of 261.
“… They fall into one or more of the following categories — first, the subject matter of the law in question is outdated, and a law is no longer needed to govern that subject; second, the purpose of the law in question has been fulfilled and it is no longer needed; and third, there is a newer law or regulation governing the same subject matter.”
These are 12 of the 72 gems in the statute books, with the commission’s notes on each:
Bengal District Act
Act 21 of 1836
“This Act gives power to the state government in Bengal to create new districts by notification in the official gazette… While new districts are now formed by state governments under their respective revenue codes, Bengal is a special case where it is still being done under the Central Act. This law may be repealed if the power to create districts is instead included in the relevant West Bengal statute.”
Sonthal Parganas Act
Act 37 of 1855
“The preamble states that ‘the general Regulations and Acts of Government now in force in the Presidency of Bengal are not adapted to the uncivilised race of people called Sonthals’. The Act cites this as the reason for removing from the operation of such laws the district inhabited by this tribe. The Act employs language to describe the tribal population that has no place in the modern era.”
Converts’ Marriage Dissolution Act
Act 21 of 1866
“This Act was enacted to allow the dissolution of marriages of converts from Hinduism to Christianity, on the grounds that they have been deserted or repudiated on religious grounds by spouse. It enables divorce proceedings to be initiated by the converted person, not his or her spouse.”
Act 22 of 1867
“The Act empowers the district magistrate to regulate public sarais… This Act is now redundant because hotels are already registered under relevant state legislation and regulations… It has been reported that police and tourism officials have harassed hotel owners in the recent past for failure to comply with provisions of the Sarais Act.”
Foreign Recruiting Act
Act 4 of 1874
“This Act empowered the government to issue an order that prevented the recruitment of Indians by a foreign state. The Act confers wide discretion on the government to specify the conditions under which persons may be barred from being recruited by a foreign state.”
Dramatic Performances Act
Act 19 of 1876
“The Act empowers the state government to prohibit performances that are scandalous, defamatory or likely to excite feelings of disaffection… It was enacted during the colonial era and extensively used to curb nationalist sentiments propagated through dramatic performances. It has no place in a modern democratic society.”
Elephants’ Preservation Act
Act 6 of 1879
“The Act makes it an offence to kill, injure or capture wild elephants except in cases of self-defence, or in accordance with a licence granted under the Act. However, the Act imposes only an insignificant fine of Rs 500 for its contravention, while a subsequent conviction attracts imprisonment for six months along with the fine. The purpose of the Act is now subsumed by the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.”
Fort William Act
Act 13 of 1881
“The Act provided for the better government of Fort William in Bengal and the Chief of Army Staff was given the power to make rules in relation to the matters specified in the schedule appended to the Act (some of the matters being throwing dirt or rubbish, rash and negligent driving, disorderly behaviour in public). The Act imposes light penalties, as little as a fine for Rs 50 or imprisonment for 4 days, for infringement… The Act was considered for repeal by the 148th Law Commission Report, 1993, for being unconstitutional.”
Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act
Act 6 of 1886
“The Act provides for the voluntary registration of the births and deaths of certain classes of persons, mainly Christians and Parsis, along with those governed by the Indian Succession Act. The 211th Law Commission Report calls the title of this Act ‘misleading’ because the Act does not consist of any provisions for registration of marriages, either voluntary or compulsory. Registration of only certain classes of people belonging to a specific religion is likely to fall foul of Article 14 of the Constitution.”
Sheriff of Calcutta (Power of Custody) Act
Act 20 of 1931
“If the Sheriff was required to take a route while holding a person (in custody) that lay outside his jurisdiction, this Act permitted him to do so. The position now held by Sheriffs in Kolkata is purely titular, without any executive power, thus making this Act unnecessary.”
Bangalore Marriages Validating Act
Act 16 of 1936
“The purpose of this Act was to validate certain marriages solemnised by Mr Walter James McDonald Redwood (a certain priest) in Bangalore. The Act has now served its purpose and should be repealed.”
Delhi Hotels (Control of Accommodation) Act
Act 24 of 1949
“This Act grants the Director of Estates the power to reserve up to one-fourth of the total accommodation available in certain private hotels in Delhi for use by government officials. The Act was brought into force for the purpose of addressing the issue of accommodation shortage for government officials in Delhi… This issue is no longer alive.”
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