India, the largest democracy in the world, is celebrating the completion of 67 years of independence. Political freedom and democracy are not just a rhetoric for many, a grand spectacle of which was seen earlier this year with the 2014 general elections. Citizens of the country elected representatives from 543 constituencies for the formation of the Lok Sabha. For many, the universal right to vote and the ability to exercise the right is nothing short of a miracle. With numerous linguistic, religious, ethnic divisions, many had assumed that political democracy could not survive in India for long. But it has. However, the celebration must be more cautious in its approach. Indian politics today faces several insurgencies as well, beginning from the Maoist party to struggles for freedom in the North East, turbulence in Kashmir, as well as other struggles against the development policies of the government like SEZs, dams, land acquisitions, mining etc.
While the Constitution of India and its laws have aspired to make the citizens free, there are several laws that reek of a colonial hangover. There are many state laws, like the Goa Polygamy law, which must be revoked. Here, we examine three major laws and legal frameworks that India must take a relook at immediately.
Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958: The law, as the name suggests, grants special powers to the army in what it calls are “disturbed areas.” Passed in 1958 when the Naga movement for independence took off, the law has just six sections. Applicable to the North East and the state of Jammu and Kashmir, it has received a lot of criticism for alleged human rights violations. The law suggests that the police can use force on the people when laws are broken, even cause death, but no action would be taken against the army officers. The government has not tabled the Reddy Committee report on the law in the Parliament. The Supreme Court has already ruled that no military officer could rape or murder and get away with it, and an officer charged with sexual assault must be prosecuted under normal laws. It is time the new government takes a stand on the law and reviews it despite the objections from the Army.
Industrial Disputes Act (1947): This Act, along with the Factories Act of 1948 must be relooked at. In fact, the entire gamut of labour laws need to be reframed with dialogue and consensus of the stakeholders. 92-93% of the Indian labour force works in the unorganised sector and it is time the government works towards better social security provisions for them. However, in case the government decides to do away with the protection of the labourer from being fired, and frees up the labour market completely, it could only work in favour of the corporate. The government must be cautious, but that does not mean it shies away from reframing laws that have lost their relevance in today's economic context.
Police Act of India, 1861: Yes that is how old our Police Act is, one that was framed by the British after the Mutiny of 1857. Though some states like Maharashtra, Kerala, Gujarat and Delhi have drafted their own laws later, in spirit, they follow the colonial act. The police force in the country suffer from extreme political intervention. The government not only has a role to play in the appointment of police officials, it has to give a nod before a public servant is prosecuted. Also, only the police department can conduct an investigation against a police officer. It is not a blame game. The police must both be free from political compulsions and more answerable and accountable for their own acts. For this, there has to be an overhaul in the system, which can only be done with the framing of new laws.