Swarajya | 26 November 2016
In the last three years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched three major cleanliness campaigns – Swachh Bharat, repeal of old laws and now the latest, replacement of high-value currency. Clearing the cobweb of obsolete laws was one of the main agendas of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election campaign in 2014 and by repealing as many as 1,175 of 1,827 laws identified as obsolete, as of 13 May 2016, the government has lived up to its election promise.
Obsolete, redundant, repetitive and/or inconsistent laws have no place in one of the fastest-growing economies. They not only act as a hindrance to economic growth and development but create chaos for the masses, put unnecessary powers in the hands of government officials, weaken the social fabric and provide incentives for corruption.
While the nation is set to celebrate the Constitution Day, a majority of Indians are not even aware of the basic laws relevant to them. Ironically, some state governments too may not have an entire list of how many laws exist on their statute books. This can be largely attributed to the multiplicity of laws and law-making bodies. We often blame our fellow citizens for violation of law, without realising the immense hardship needed for compliance. Too many laws and too little justice!
In 2014, the Centre for Civil Society in collaboration with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy and Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy submitted to the government a compendium of 100 laws to be repealed. These laws had either outlived their purpose or had been superseded and subsumed by newer, more current laws or poses a material impediment to growth, development, good governance and individual freedom. Of these, 25 laws were repealed by the government.
However, this should not be a one-time exercise, and the government should institutionalise certain processes and mechanisms to make this happen continuously on a meaningful and sustainable basis. The Law Commission should come out with an objective criterion to repeal obsolete laws based on international practices. Most of the Law Commission’s recommendations are based on personal observations of its members and lacks substantial research backup, making it difficult for lawmakers to decide upon. The Commission’s resources and research capabilities should be augmented and it should be encouraged to forge alliances with law colleges and think tanks to conduct research and mobilise the required resources.
The Australian Law Reform Commission has many lessons to offer in this regard. Not only is it independent, 85 per cent of its recommendations are adopted by the government. To achieve this level of capability and influence, the Law Commission should be strengthened, reoriented and preferably made a statutory body.
A separate Parliamentary Standing Committee may be formed to periodically review and recommend laws that need to be repealed. Moreover, it is important that state governments also start repealing their obsolete laws, as Rajasthan has done. The centre should prepare an index - “Ease of Laws” - on the lines of “Ease of Doing Business” to promote competition among the states.
Finally, 26 November, Constitution Day, should also be observed as ‘National Repeal Law Day’ and a few identified obsolete laws should be repealed that day as a practice. All ministries should be directed to forward their list of laws to be repealed to the cabinet in advance for the purpose of repeal on 26 November.
The Modi government should leave a lasting legacy of a change in mindset – legislatures should not just sit to make new laws, but at least once a year, assemble to exclusively repeal laws.
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