Taming a mad elephant: Rajasthan will boost minimum government and maximum governance by repealing 150 laws
Rajasthan today has 592 Acts. More than 150 of these will be repealed next month. The last such review was in 1964 and even then no principal Act of the state was repealed. An interesting side story of repealing 15 of our Acts was the inability of implementing departments to provide our review committee with physical copies of 55 Acts they were “implementing” – these documents had to be obtained from the state printing press and state archives in Bikaner.
When Saint Kabir wrote,
“Ati ka bhala na bolna, Ati ki bhali na chup. Ati ka bhala na barasna, Ati ki bhali na dhoop,”
he was emphasising balance — talking too much or too less is just as undesirable as extremes in climate. This doha is important for lawmakers because excessive legislation not only clogs our court system but is a breeding ground for discretion, harassment and corruption.
Surely reviewing laws for relevance and effectiveness is crucial to improving the government-citizen interface. Rajasthan has used three tests for repeal: if the law is not used, if there are other laws or rules which cover the same thing, and if there will be a reduction in needless discretion or public harassment.
All democracies have an enduring conversation over laws. The world’s oldest democracy — the US — continues to reconcile tensions between the view that its constitution should be restricted to its stated provisions by Thomas Jefferson’s notion of a “strict construction” and the view that it should be given some doctrinal breathing space by a reliance on what Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall called a “fair” or “reasonable” interpretation.
As Richard Epstein suggests in his new book The Classic Liberal Constitution, “Jefferson and his followers insisted that courts would diminish the constitution through their expansive construction if the logic of strict constitution did not hold sway, while the other side insisted that if this view held the constitution would ossify and wind up as nothing more than a magnificent structure to look at, but totally unfit for use.”
Babasaheb Ambedkar would agree with Hamilton. His wonderful closing speech to the Constituent Assembly debates in 1950 said: “The idea that institutions established for the use of the nation cannot be touched or modified, even to make them answer their end, may be a salutary provision against abuses, but is most absurd against the nation itself. The notion that we have a right to impose laws on us, unalterable by ourselves, and that we can make and impose on future generations, which they will have no right to alter is an earth that belongs to the dead not the living.”
The Rajasthan government agrees with Ambedkar’s view that our laws must be living documents that are diligently interrogated and continuously reviewed from the lens of an individual citizen.
It is unclear how the Rajasthan Refuse (Conversion of Manure) Act 1951, Vaccination Act 1957, Minor Irrigation Act 1953, Electricity Duty Act 1962, Motor Vehicle Taxation Act 1987, and the Coal Control Order Act 1964, among others, are helpful to the state or its citizens.
This project has three phases: repealing, consolidating and examining relevance. The first phase will soon conclude and involved wide public consultation and active input from Niti Aayog. The second phase will clear clutter — does Rajasthan really need 75 different Acts for higher education? The third phase is tricky and requires wide and deep consultation with all stakeholders.
An interesting consequence of this project is that we have now catalogued 598 rules belonging to 37 departments and are far from done but, over the next year, we will put all our Acts and Rules online in a search friendly format for all citizens because sunshine is the best disinfectant.
In 1928 Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel told the British in Bardoli: “Your government has run amuck. It thinks it can trample everything under its feet. Even so thinks the mad elephant, priding itself on having trampled every lion and tiger to death, and scorning the little gnat defying him. I am teaching the little gnat today to let the elephant go on in his mad career and then get into his trunk at the opportune moment.”
Gandhiji walked 390 km from Sabarmati to Dandi. I think he would be upset with the Salt Cess Act of 1953.
But most Indians don’t realise the impact of live legislation like the Contract Act of 1872, Telegraph Act of 1885, Penal Code of 1860, Succession Act of 1865, and Evidence Act of 1872 that were written by unelected bureaucrats.
Rajasthan’s law review programme is cradled within the broader central government agenda of minimum government and maximum governance. Too many Indian citizens view lawmaking and lawmakers with suspicion because of the huge gap between how our laws are written, interpreted, practised and enforced.
This project fulfils one more promise made to citizens and job creators before our Resurgent Rajasthan investment summit in November. Lawmakers voluntarily getting rid of the redundant burden of legislative history is the best demonstration that there is nothing wrong with India that can’t be fixed with what is right with India.
(The writer is Chief Minister of Rajasthan)