Govt. (Finally) Overhauling India Code

If you’re like me, you’d know how difficult it is to go searching after official versions of Central and State Acts passed by the Parliament and various State Legislatures in India. Even if you do find a copy, they are often outdated, that is, not updated as per latest amendments.

So, in the highly unlikely situation that you do find a statute, it’s outdated, and if it’s not, it will be outdated soon (once amended). Even common Acts like the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and their likes, each of which dictate the daily functioning of the constitutional machinery of the State, suffer from the same problem.

Enter the India Code Information System. Maintained by the Legislative Department of the Ministry of Law & Justice, listed in it are all Central Acts passed from 1836 onwards. Yes, the British colonial Acts too!

How lovely! However, there’s a catch: if only they were formatted properly!

Unformatted Text!

Go head over to India Code. The website’s as useful as it gets. It has wonderful (not to mention, particularly useful) links to a plethora of other websites that might surely interested anyone interested in Indian law (which is reflected by the fact you’ve landed there).

Now, try searching for some legal statute. You’ll find it. Then open it. See that huge chunk of unformatted text, without headers, line breaks, highlighting and paragraph breaks?

Untitled
A screenshot of how the Indian Penal Code looks like in India Code. Yea, it’s that unformatted, monotonous piece of text in the middle.

Is it possible to follow that? Legal language, as such, is complicated. If that’s not enough, if the text isn’t even properly formatted, do you suppose anyone will be able to follow it? Of course not!

Grievance to the Ministry

So, I decided to send a piece of my mind to the Department of Legal Affairs (also known, in technical terminology, as a “grievance”). For this purpose (lodging of grievances), there is a particularly useful portal, the Portal for Public Grievances. Coordinated and maintained by the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances, through this portal, anyone can lodge a grievance to a Central Ministry or agency, or any state government in India.

The grievance (DLGLA/E/2015/00176) was, promptly and correctly, forwarded to the Correction Section.

Here’s how it went:

“I understand that the Ministry of Law and Justice runs a Portal by the name of India Code, which lists all the pieces of legislation that have been enacted in India. In this context, it would be worthwhile to mention that, technically, India Code as a portal of legal statutes is complete. Any Act or law ever passed in India, along with all Constitutional Amendments, is available here. At the same time, there is a very serious problem with this database. All the Acts are written in unformatted text, in a monotonous, continuous way that makes it extremely difficult to follow the text. There are no headers, paragraph breaks, or even line breaks. The whole HTML document, as a whole, is a block of text that is extremely hard to look at, more so, follow. As a result, Indians often have to take recourse to external, often unofficial sources to get their hands on pieces of legislation they might wish to go through. Since these are often not updated at par with the latest amendments, what happens is that people, very often government officials and civil servants, land up with an outdated piece of legislation, which they wrongly use or enforce, not being aware of amendments made to the same. I would thereby request the concerned authority to overhaul the India Code portal, in order to ensure that the text of legislations is properly formatted with headers, paragraphs, and line breaks wherever they belong. It would be also be far better if it is ensured that pieces of legislation on India Code have the latest amendments incorporated into them as soon as they are available, striking out or adding portions as the case may be. This would definitely make life easier for hundreds of citizens, and also government officials, who are often stuck in a time warp as a result of possessing outdated legislation.”

What Happened Next

I lodged the grievance in March this year. Within a few months, I noticed a change. There was a tiny little navigation bar now added on top, with links to Acts passed 2012 onwards, in PDF. They were linked to appropriate publications of the same in the Official Gazette of India.

Good. Something, or someone’s working on it.

Today morning, I received a notice of closure from CPGRAMS-DARPG by email, informing me that my grievance DLGLA/E/2015/00176 had been disposed of.

The notice of closure:

“A unit has recently been constituted by the Legislative Department for updating and uploading of the Central Acts in the India Code Portal. However, the work of updation is still under process. A copy of your grievance is being forwarded to the Unit concerned.”

Epilogue

So, yes, somebody’s working on it, and we can expect properly updated Central Acts in India Code in future. That would only help everybody with an officially-stamped version of Central Acts, from a trusted, official source.

Presently, there are 2 notable unofficial sources of legal statues in India, updated as per the latest amendments:

  • Indian Kanoon, a search engine for laws, judgments, gazette notifications and related stuff in India
  • Vakilno1.coma similar legal website, focused on Indian laws

You might argue, a request under the Right to Information Act might have been better suited for this purpose. I understand that only now, since I have become fully aware of this especially useful legal instrument known as RTI only from this month. Previously, I was aware of nothing but its name, along with faint inklings as to its usefulness.

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