Know why PM Modi's agenda of repealing archaic laws is correct

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Moving ahead with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's agenda of scrapping ‘archaic' laws, the Law Commission has submitted a report to the government to repeal 72 redundant Acts.
Moving ahead with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's agenda of scrapping ‘archaic' laws, the Law Commission has submitted a report to the government to repeal 72 redundant Acts.

Why Law Commission wants to repeal these laws?

In its 248th Interim Report on Obsolete Laws, the Law Commission has recommended for repeal of these laws because they fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • The subject matter of the law in question is outdated, and a law is no longer needed to govern that subject.
  • The purpose of the law in question has been fulfilled and it is no longer needed.
  • There is newer law or regulation governing the same subject matter.

Have a look at a few of those laws:

Bengal Districts Act, 1836

This Act gives power to the State Government in Bengal to create new districts by notification in the Official Gazette. It is one of two of the oldest laws in the country. 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.

Forfeited Deposits Act, 1850

This Act was enacted for the forfeiture to the Government of deposits made on incomplete sales of land made under Regulation VIII, 1819 of the Bengal Code. Since tenure-holders or patnidars were taking fraudulent advantage of this Regulation, this Act was introduced to counter the situation. This Act is of no relevance after 1947.

Sheriffs' Fees Act, 1852

This Act was enacted to remunerate Sheriffs of the presidency towns of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, at a time when Sheriffs executed legal processes issued by courts. Now, Sheriffs do not exercise judicial or executive functions. They perform an apolitical, non-executive role and preside over various city-related functions and conferences. This is no longer relevant since Sheriffs now enjoy only a ceremonial position in the administrative hierarchy.

Oriental Gas Company Act, 1857

This Act was enacted to confer certain powers on the Oriental Gas Company (OGC), such as the power to lay down pipes in Calcutta for the purpose of manufacturing, supplying and distributing fuel gas. OGC was originally an English Company, which has now ceased to exist. It was taken over by the State of West Bengal and merged with a larger public utility company. The original 1857 Act serves no purpose now.

Howrah Offences Act, 1857

This Act was enacted to prescribe penalties for various offences committed within the limits of Howrah, a suburb of British era Calcutta where the iconic Howrah Station is located. However, the Act lays down relatively insignificant sentences and fines while the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and other criminal laws have stricter penalties for the same offences. This Act has not been used in the recent past, with the last recorded case being in 1956. While this Act is redundant, concerns remain about its use as a legal escape route to avoid more stringent penalties under the IPC (or some other law).

Fort William Act, 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 of these rules.

Converts' Marriage Dissolution Act, 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. The scope of the Act was first considered in the 18th Law Commission Report (1960) which recommended repeal of the Act because of its limited scope.

Dramatic Performances Act, 1876

The Act empowers the State Government to prohibit performances that are scandalous, defamatory or likely to excite feelings of disaffection. Disobeying such prohibitions attracts penalties. 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, 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 6 months along with the fine. The purpose of the Act is now subsumed by the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 which has similar provisions on the prohibition of killing wild animals and on 26 procedures for licensing.

Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act, 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 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. Further, registration of births and deaths is already provided for under the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969, while marriage are registered under the Hindu Marriage Act, Special Marriage Act etc.

Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911

This Act empowered a District Magistrate or Commissioner of Police to prohibit a public meeting in a proclaimed area if they believe such meeting is likely to promote sedition. This Act was enacted with the express purpose of clamping down on meetings being held by nationalists. The Act prohibited meetings ‘likely to cause disturbance or public excitement', but the specific provisions creating offences suffer from vagueness. The continuation of this colonial legislation is unnecessary given the extensive provisions relating to sedition under the Indian Penal Code.

Newspaper (Price and Page) Act, 1956

This Act was enacted to provide for the regulation of the prices charged for newspapers in relation to their pages so as to prevent unfair competition among newspapers. The Act empowered Central Government to make orders providing for the regulation of the prices charged for newspapers in relation to their maximum or minimum number of pages, sizes or areas and for the space to be allotted for advertisements.

What Modi government feels about archaic-laws?

Soon after taking over, Modi had told a meeting of Secretaries that "there may be rules and processes which have become outdated, and instead of serving the process of governance, they are leading to avoidable confusion".

The PM had stressed upon the need to "identify and do away with such archaic rules and procedures".

What does Law Commission say about such laws?

The Law Commision chaired by Justice AP Shah says, "Obsolete, irrelevant and are 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.

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