These 8 Indian laws are so old that they still mention “Her majesty” and the “East India Company”

All cattle must stay off public roads, as per The Cattle-Trespass Act, 1871—except cows.
All cattle must stay off public roads, as per The Cattle-Trespass Act, 1871—except cows.
Image: Reuters/Parth Sanyal
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The Narendra Modi government wants to identify and repeal archaic laws, many that are centuries old, as a part of its reform process.

A committee has already been formed to sift through hundreds of these outdated legislations that make little, or no, sense in modern India. The Law Ministry lists about 203 laws that were enacted a 100 years ago. Some of these have been repealed, but many continue to be around complete with mentions of the East India Company and “Her Majesty.”

Here are some select specimens.

Indian Treasure Trove Act, 1878

If you come across any “treasure” or basically anything that is more valuable than Rs 10, you can be jailed if you do not report it to a revenue officer. As the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) explains it, the law was designed to “protect and preserve treasure found accidentally but had archaeological and historical value” and was “enacted to protect and preserve such treasures and their lawful disposal.”

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Section 497)

Only men, this law rules, can be punished for adultery—and women go free. But there’s more.

If a married man has sex outside marriage with an unmarried woman, a divorcee or a widow, it will not be treated as adultery under this section of Indian law. In case a man has sex with a married woman and has her husband’s consent that, too, will not be treated as adultery. Effectively, this means that it is legal for a man to have an extramarital affair as long as it’s with a single woman or a married woman whose husband consents to it.

Ganges Tolls Act, 1867

Enacted for “improving and facilitating the navigation of the Ganges” between Allahabad and Dinapur (near Patna), steamers and boats plying on the stretch had to pay a toll of 12 annas. A single (now defunct) anna was equal to a 1/16 of a rupee.  The Act requires that the toll shall “not exceed 12 annas per hundred maunds (a unit of mass),” and was applied to vessels typically carrying 200 maunds and upwards.

The Cattle-Trespass Act, 1871

Much before India’s highways became a free-for-all, this law was enacted with the intention of keeping cattle off public roads. Cattle also had to stay away from “pleasure-grounds, plantations, canals, drainage-works, embankments and the like”, otherwise they would be seized and locked away in a pound. Owners can subsequently reclaim them by paying a fine, or risk having them auctioned after seven days.

Cows, however, are exempt from any such restrictions. But elephants, camel, buffaloes, horses, mare, geldings, ponies, colts, fillies, mules, asses, pigs, rams, ewes, sheep, lambs and goats aren’t.

Glanders and Farcy Act of 1899

Glanders (or farcy) is a disease that affects horses, and can be passed on to humans. Under this act horses with the disease can be culled and the owner gets a compensation for the loss of livelihood. Inspectors also have the power to “enter and search any field, building, or other place for the purpose of ascertaining whether there is therein any horse which is diseased.” As recently as 2011, this law was used to pay a compensation of Rs 50 to the owners of a horse affected by glanders. The horse cost the owners Rs 35,000 and helped them earn Rs 250 a day.

The Bengal Bonded Warehouse Association Act, 1838

This act helped form a corporate body for the warehousing of goods, known as the Bengal Bonded Warehouse Association, with a capital stock of Rs 10,000 and six directors, all residents of “Bengal Presidency.” The act stipulates that only residents of the Presidency of Fort William in Bengal can be its directors. The East India Company has the first right on any property the Association wishes to sell. The original East India Company was dissolved in 1874.

Indian Post Office Act, 1898

India’s massive courier industry is mostly illegal as a result of this law. That’s because, as per this act, the government retains the exclusive privilege “of conveying by post, from one place to another” most letters. Courier companies can, however, send letters by calling them “documents.”

Indian Sarais Act, 1887

If you get ill while living at a hotel in India, the establishment has to report it to a police station under the Sarais Act. The innkeepers are also required to “to remove all noxious vegetation on or near the sarai (hotel), and all trees and branches of trees capable of affording to thieves means of entering or leaving” the premises.