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After bringing three new bills to replace three colonial-era law codes, the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Indian Evidence Act, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) is now reviewing other pre-independence acts under its purview to contemporise them, people familiar with the matter said.
The acts being reviewed include the Passport Act, 1920; the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939; the Foreigners Act, 1946; the Official Secrets Act, 1923; the Delhi Laws Act, 1915; and the Poison Act, 1919.
“Union home secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla recently convened a meeting to review the action taken so far to repeal or amend these laws,” said one of the people cited above, a government official who asked not to be named.
“Laws like Registration of Foreigners Act have not been renewed for so many decades despite monumental changes in how people travel for work, leisure etc in the modern times. Some changes have been made by amending rules through gazette notifications for registration of foreigners like doing away with physical presence and registering electronically — but a proper review was necessary,” said a second government officer, who too did not want to be named.
Similarly, this officer added, the “review of the Official Secrets Act was pending for a long time”.
A timeline for amending these acts has not been decided but officials said such reviews are part of a continuous process and that MHA is in touch with the ministry of law, states and other stakeholders to contemporaise these laws. On the last day of the monsoon session of Parliament this year, Union home minister Amit Shah introduced three bills — the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita 2023, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita 2023, and Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023, to replace the IPC, CrPC and Indian Evidence Act, respectively, in an overhaul that the government says will transform India’s criminal justice system.
The three bills have been examined by a department related parliamentary standing committee on home affairs, which is likely to submit its report later this week.
Commenting on the need to change the laws made by the British, the government informed the Parliament in December 2022 that “obsolete and archaic laws lay down unnecessary compliance burden on citizens”.
“Therefore, it has been the resolve of this government to reduce such compliance burden, bring reforms in the legal system and make it more accessible to the common man”, it added
Since May 2014, 1,486 obsolete and redundant central acts have been repealed. Besides, 76 central acts relating to state subject have also been repealed by the state legislatures concerned.
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The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) formed a two-member committee in September 2014 to identify the central acts which are not relevant or no longer needed or require repeal/re-enactment in the present socio-economic context. It examined and identified 1,824 obsolete acts (including 229 state acts) for repeal and submitted the report to the government.
The Law Commission of India, Bezbaruah committee, Vishwanathan committee, Malimath committee, Madhav Menon committee, etc, have also, through the years, recommended section-specific amendments in criminal laws and general reforms in criminal justice system; and the 111th (2005), 128th (2006) and 146th (2010) reports of the department-related Parliamentary standing committee on home affairs recommended a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in the country and stressed on the need to reform and rationalise the criminal laws of the country by introducing a comprehensive legislation in Parliament rather than bringing about piecemeal amendments in criminal laws.
The Union home secretary has highlighted several problems in the present legal system, such as huge pendency in courts, low conviction rate, overcrowding of undertrials prisoners in prisons, very little use of modern technology, delay in investigation and complicated investigation/pending hearing process. He told the Parliamentary committee on home affairs that “pre-independence criminal laws were used by the British to protect their colonial interests, to rule the people and the country and to maintain their authority and supremacy over India”.
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