Archaic laws: PM says these must go but who will bell the cat?

Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

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What is needed is a time bound decision to overhaul the justice delivery system which must include removal of colonial laws.

It is indeed unfortunate that even after 75 years of our independence, and even as we pride ourselves as the largest democracy in the world, we continue to have outdated and archaic laws introduced by British rulers to suit their ends.

The dire need for repealing colonial laws has been voiced over the years and numerous commissions have been set up to identify laws which should be buried for good.

Dignitaries from prime ministers, law ministers and various chief justices of India had been voicing their concerns and asking for a complete review of the outdated laws but we continue to have these in our legal system.

Making the matters worse is the fact that we are the most litigious nation in the world. A visit to the crowded courts, right from the Supreme Court down to the subordinate courts, reveals the extent of the problem. Ironically the government itself is the largest litigant.


The complicated laws and the use of difficult language, including use of words from other foreign languages, add to the problem. No wonder over four crore cases are pending in various courts across the country.

During a recent conference of law ministers and law secretaries, prime minister Narendra Modi too made an impassioned plea for removal of colonial laws. Calling the delay in the judicial delivery system one of the major challenges being faced by the people, he said a “sensitive judicial system is an essential condition for a capable nation”.

He also said that “it is important for us to break the shackles of colonialism by removing regressive colonial laws”. Unfortunately all the prime ministers and law ministers have been speaking on similar lines since the independence but the fact remains that some of the most draconian laws continue to be misused by successive governments.

Obviously it suits the government of the day to use these laws to tackle political opponents or silence the critics. This has been happening in the past too although there is a sharp rise in such incidents during the tenure of the present dispensation.

Speaking at the same conference, the prime minister claimed that 1500 obsolete and archaic laws have been scrapped during the last eight years. Although he did not specify any particular laws which have been scrapped but it certainly is a welcome step. Evidently much more needs to be done.

uapa lawsWe still have draconian colonial laws like the Sedition law, criminal defamation law and the re-christened Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which continue to be misused to prevent or discourage criticism of the government. Law enforcers apparently feel that any criticism of the government is criticism of the country.

There are numerous examples of such laws being misused. These would be funny if these were not taking away civil liberties of the citizens.

How would anyone justify putting someone behind bars for a four year old tweet based on a two decade old Bollywood film or jailing someone for years for making an attempt to report on a rape case.

Seditions and UAPA laws have been evoked against retired bureaucrats, judicial officers and journalism for simply raising a demand for justice.

A 22 year old girl was charged with sedition for raising slogans against the government while an octogenarian was put behind bars for alleged anti national activities.

sedition laws

Official data from the National Crime Records Bureau’s report on Crime statistics confirm the fact that there has been a sharp increase in booking people under these laws.

About two years ago, the Union Home Ministry set up a committee, headed by Dr Ranbir Singh, Vice Chancellor of National Law University, to study and recommend amendments to the Indian Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Evidence Act.

Earlier, the Malimath committee set up by former Union Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani had first recommended several changes to the IPC and the CrPC. However the governments have been reluctant to undertake any drastic changes.

What is needed is a time bound decision to overhaul the justice delivery system which must include removal of colonial laws, amendment to the law dealing with sedition and waging war against the state, simplification of language used in courts so that the litigants can understand the issues and establishment of more fast track courts to reduce the pendency of cases.

Hopefully the new Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud, who is known for his forward and modern thinking, would nudge the government to bring in the much needed reforms.


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Vipin Pubby

Vipin Pubby

The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.

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