Report calls for scrapping of 100 outdated laws
NEW DELHI: Did you know that possessing 2.43mm to 3.52mm of copper wire was illegal and could land you in prison or that you need to pay excise duty of 1 paisa per kilogram on Virginia tobacco produced and auctioned? These are just some of the laws that continue to be in our statute books according to 100 Laws Repeal project report by Centre for Civil Society in collaboration with NIPFP and Vidhi Legal Centre.
The report released recently has outlined 25 colonial and independence related laws, 17 laws that constrain economic freedom and impose restrictions on personal liberty and 19 laws that hinder effective governance. The report includes justification and evidence to support repeal of 8 laws that impose taxes, cesses and levies that bring little benefit despite adding significant administrative and collection costs. The group also recommends that 20 laws passed around the time of Emergency, allowing the government to take over private enterprises be repealed besides identifying 10 central statutes that add to India's labour market rigidities.
These include Exchange of Prisoners Act, 1948 to facilitate exchange of prisoners between India and Pakistan post-partition, Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950 despite the fact that the telegraph wound up operations in July 2013, the Tobacco Cess Act, 1975 and the Hackney-Carriage Act, 1879 for licensing of hackney carriages.
Centre for Civil Society president Parth J Shah said, "Repealing these 100 laws should not become one-off exercise. The Australian Government has set aside Autumn Repeal Day every year and they promise the people to cut red-tape by $1 billion per year. The laws, regulations and executive orders they cut are also listed on www.cuttingredtape.gov.au for transparency and accountability. In honour of the Constitution of India, may be January 26 could be the Annual Repeal Day for India."
The law ministry has already identified obsolete British statutes, and proposed repeal of 36 such laws in the last session of Parliament. Alongside, the Law Commission in its recent report has identified an additional 72 such laws (40 of which came from the 100 Laws Project.) Besides law ministry has decided to repeal 287 amending acts.
The Exchange of Prisoners Act, 1948 for instance has lost relevance because it was only for prisoners committed to custody on or before August 1, 1948 while the Disputed Elections (Prime Minister and Speaker) Act, 1977 is an Emergency era law that provides for a special procedure if there is a dispute in the election of the PM or Speaker. The law was used only once in 1977, when an authority was set up to try election petitions against Morarji Desai, who headed the Janata coalition government. "Not only is it a redundant law, but also one that represents concentration of power, and the breakdown of the rule of law during the Emergency," says the report.
The Telegraph Wires (Unlawful Possession) Act, 1950 provides for regulating possession of telegraph wires despite the fact that India sent out its last telegram in July 2013 while the Tobacco Cess Act 1975 provides for collection of excise duty at the rate of 1 paisa per kilogram on all Virginia tobacco produced in India and auctioned despite the negligible cess collected.
The Hackney-Carriage Act, 1879 provides for licensing of hackney carriages though wheeled vehicles drawn by animals have long been eased out.
This newspaper has consistently argued that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of laws that make no sense in a modern, market-oriented economy and these should be done away with. The Modi government has promised to repeal all such laws. We hope it will act swiftly as these laws offer scope for unscrupulous officials to extort money from people who find it impossible to adhere to them. This only reduces respect for the law. In turn, that impedes establishing the rule of law - a prerequisite for a system that functions effectively.
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