The laws that were made to serve the colonial masters have no place in democratic India. The Central government’s move to repeal as many as 235 obsolete Acts at one go is a welcome development. In this time and age, these archaic laws — a majority of them framed during the British era — should have no place in the law books. Since many of them have no relevance or utility, they need to walk into the sunset. These laws are archaic because social, economic and legal conditions that prompted their enactment don’t exist anymore. The latest round of repealing exercise is part of a policy initiated about three years ago to scrap archaic laws and simplify governance. About 1,800 laws that have outlived their utility have been repealed during the last three years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on several occasions spoken about his government’s resolve to scrap outdated laws that have become a hindrance to transparent administration. This would be in line with the motto ‘minimum government, maximum governance.’ For decades, Indian bureaucratic system meant extraordinarily large governments while ironically the quality of governance has been quite poor. Much of the precious time is lost in interpreting these laws that have no relevance to the present needs and aspirations of the people. A key part of the legal reforms is the repeal of obsolete laws. In the latest round, 235 outdated Acts and nine pre-Independence Ordinances have been repealed.
In 2014, a two-member panel was set up to identify such central laws. The Law Commission has also submitted four reports on laws which could be repealed for being redundant. The next step after repealing old laws is to ensure laws are written in a simple manner. The process of drafting laws has not changed much from the old Victorian way, something that is not in use even in England now. The periodic review of the relevance and effectiveness of laws is necessary to make the administration transparent and responsive to the people’s needs. Some of the provisions of the laws of sedition, adultery and ‘sex against the order of nature’ need to be scrapped. The regressive notions that underlie law-making must be done away with. The Law Commission, in an interim report in 2014, noted that it had from time to time identified the archaic laws that have to be repealed. It is surprising that some of the ordinances issued by the Governor-General between 1941 and 1946 on subjects like war injuries, war gratuities and collective fines are being removed from the statute book only now. A proposal to set up a permanent commission to conduct a thorough review and identify the laws that require repeal deserves serious consideration.