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The government will continue to focus on the repeal of obsolete laws in the current session of Parliament as it seeks to carry forward its effort to make the legal system more contemporary.

As of 13 May, Parliament had repealed 1,175 of 1,827 laws identified as obsolete, according to a question answered in the Rajya Sabha by then law minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda.

The process of identifying and recommending the repeal of these laws was undertaken in two ways. Shortly after the National Democratic Alliance came to power, the Union law ministry wrote to the Law Commission in June 2014, seeking a report identifying obsolete laws. In August that year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi set up a two-member panel for performing the same task.

The law commission defined an obsolete law first. “First, the subject matter of the law in question is outdated, and a law is no longer needed to govern that subject; second, the purpose of the law in question has been fulfilled and it is no longer needed and third, there is newer law or regulation governing the same subject matter," according to the Commission’s first report in September 2014.

A Law Commission panel recommended the repeal of 252 laws over four reports submitted from September to November 2014. The two-member committee created by the prime minister’s office identified 1,741 central laws for repeal, out of a total 2,781 Acts. There were some overlaps in the two findings.

According to the government, the 1,175 laws already repealed have been by way of four legislation—the Repealing and Amending Act, 2015, the Repealing and Amending (Second) Act, 2015, the Appropriation Acts (Repeal) Act, 2016 and Repealing and Amending Act, 2016.

The NDA first initiated the process of review and repeal of obsolete laws in 1998. It created the Commission on Review of Administrative Law which recommended repeal of 1,382 central laws. Of those, 415 were repealed.

A mere repeal of laws is not sufficient.

“Repealing some laws on paper is the first step in the larger quest towards making us a rule-of-law country. From there we move to knowing the 100 or 200 laws that govern our lives," said Arghya Sengupta, founder and research director of think tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.

“The initial set of repeals were a clean-up of the easy laws—laws which don’t have much relevance. Then we come to the harder laws—laws which are actually implemented" he added. “Once we’re past that, we come to the key question which has still not been tackled—laws not in consonance with where you want India to go, like moving away freedom-restricting laws like portions of the Cinematograph Act, sedition and moving away from excessive state control in our economic policies," Sengupta added.

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