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The country’s recorded legal history is believed to date back to the Vedic ages, and a more refined form of law, based on recorded judicial precedents, was introduced by the East India Company. Some legislations, if taken out of their historical context, may sound weird and totally irrelevant in the present-day world. But from a historical perspective, many of them still evoke interest, and give a deeper view into the farsighted visions of the lawmakers. The state government is preparing a bill to scrap such outdated laws, which also include some that have left clear footprints in the state’s history.

The law for the abolition of the devadasi system, for instance, was part of a broader trend in the movement for emancipation of women in pre-independence India. From the national act of 1924, to Maharashtra Devadasi System (Abolition) Act of 2005, several laws were enacted in various provinces and states before and after independence.

The former Malabar region, from Kasaragod up to a part of Thrissur, still has the Madras Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act, a law enacted on October 9, 1947, immediately after the country’s independence.The law was passed as part of a policy of social reformation in the Madras presidency, giving devadasis the legal right to marry. The law also made it illegal to dedicate girls to the temples. Since Malabar was part of the erstwhile Madras province, the game-changing act of those times still prevails in these districts.

The Paliam Proclamation enacted by the Cochin government in 1935 that declared the estates of the Paliam family—the family of the chief ministers of Cochin Maharajas—to be under the kingdom, is another law that has become irrelevant.

Many people think that sensitivity to animal rights is a comparatively recent phenomenon. Records show that a law was enacted more than 100 years ago in the Cochin kingdom titled “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act”, for stopping cruelty towards animals.

As many as 102 acts, including the three aforementioned, are still in existence in the state—some as old as 150 years— and are categorized as irrelevant. They include 17 acts passed in erstwhile Malabar under Madras presidency, nine acts passed in Cochin, two under Travancore, and one applicable to Travancore-Cochin state.

There are also 73 laws enacted by the present state assembly in the list of outdated legislations that could evoke interests among history enthusiasts. The Supply of Paddy and Rice to Travancore Palace (extinguishment of rights and liabilities), Act, 1976 is one among them. The Travancore-Kochi government had in 1949 ordered that Travancore palace be annually supplied rice for surrendering ‘Kandukrishi’ lands to the government. The 1976 act abolished the government’s obligation to honour the order of 1949, without paying any compensation to the palace.

“We have several statutes in the state that have lost their relevance and force due to the ‘doctrine of desuetude’. But the common man cannot claim that these acts cease to exist. It is either the courts or the legislator that should make the appropriate changes by scrapping the irrelevant acts,” former law secretary B G Hareendranath said. Years ago, a committee led by eminent jurist V R Krishna Iyer had identified several obsolete acts and recommended the government to scrap them, but nothing proceeded further.

During the tenure of the previous LDF government headed by Pinarayi Vijayan, the law department had prepared a list of acts that are to be scrapped. Though a bill was also prepared in 2016, it was never introduced in the assembly. There are acts that are not part of the list that are to be scrapped, but are still confined to regions within the state. While the Travancore-Cochin Literary, Scientific and Charitable Societies Registration Act, 1955, is still used for the registration of literary, scientific and charitable societies in regions other than erstwhile Malabar, the territorial application of the Madras Vexatious Litigation (Prevention) Act, 1949, is limited to Malabar.

Opposition leader V D Satheeshan pointed out the need for unified laws in the state and emphasized the role of legislative housekeeping. “These anomalies should have been rectified and unified laws should have been introduced. Different regions of the state having different rules do not make sense. This will have to be taken up by the legislators as a common subject irrespective of the ruling front or the opposition,” Satheesan said.



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Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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