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In common language, the term Act is synonymous with the terms legislation, statute, and law.
The Constitution of India specifies issues for which only the Central Government can make laws e.g. defence, telecommunications. Such laws are also called Central Acts and are passed by the Parliament. After being passed by the Parliament, the Act must receive the assent of the President of India. In the final stage, the Act must be notified in the Official Gazette. The Act does not come into force until it is notified in the Official Gazette.
Illustration: The Information Technology Act was passed by the Parliament and received the assent of the President of India on 15 August 2000. It was notified in the Official Gazette on 17 October 2000. If a person had violated the provisions of this Act on 16 October 2000, he would not be liable as the Act was not in force in India.
The Constitution of India also specifies issues for which only the State Government can make laws e.g. shops such as cyber cafes. Such laws are also called State Acts and are passed by the State Legislature. After being passed by the State Legislature, the Act must receive the assent of the Governor of the state. In the final stage, the Act must be notified in the Official Gazette of the respective state.
In this post, we will focus on Central Acts.
An Act comes into force when it is:
- passed by both the Houses of Parliament (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha), and
- assented to by the President, and
- notified in the official gazette
1. What is a Bill?
An Act starts its journey as a Bill.
Based on content, bills can be of 9 types:
- Original Bills which embody new proposals, ideas or policies
- Amending Bills which seek to modify, amend or revise existing Acts
- Consolidating Bills which seek to consolidate existing law/enactments on a particular subject.
- Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bills which seek to continue Acts which, otherwise, would expire on a specified date.
- Repealing and amending Bill to cleanse the Statute Book.
- Validating Acts to give validity to certain actions.
- Bills to replace Ordinances.
- Money and Financial Bills.
- Constitution Amendment Bills.
Procedurally, Bills are classified as:
1. Ordinary Bills – Financial Bill Category B and Ordinary Bills can be introduced in either the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha.
2. Money Bills and Financial Bills – Money Bills and Category A Financial Bills can only be introduced in the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha has limited powers with respect to Money Bills. It can only make recommendations within 14 days from the date of its receipt. The Lok Sabha can choose to ignore or accept these recommendations.
3. Ordinance Replacing Bills – These are brought before Parliament to replace an Ordinance. They can be with or without modifications. To provide continuity to the provisions of the Ordinance, such a Bill has to be passed by the Houses of Parliament and assented to by the President within 6 weeks of the reassembly of Parliament.
4. Constitution Amendment Bills – These can be of 3 types – requiring a simple majority in each House; requiring special majority in each House (a majority of the total membership of a House and by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting) and requiring special majority for their passage and ratification by Legislatures of not less than one-half of the States by resolutions to that effect passed by those Legislatures.
From the point of view of initiation into the Parliament, Bills are classified into
- Government Bills, if initiated by a Minister.
- Private Members’ Bills if initiated by a Private Member.
After the dissolution of Lok Sabha, all Bills except the Bills introduced in the Rajya Sabha and pending therein, lapse.
2. How a Bill becomes an Act
A Bill undergoes 3 readings in each House of the Parliament.
1. The First Reading consists of the introduction of a Bill. In many cases, the bill is referred to the relevant Parliamentary Standing Committee for examination and report within 3 months.
2. The next stage on a Bill i.e., Second Reading starts only after the Committee submits its report on the Bill to the Houses. The Second Reading consists of two stages: discussion on the principles of the Bill & its provisions generally and the clause-by clause consideration of the Bill as introduced or as reported by the Select/Joint Committee. Amendments given by members to various clauses are moved at this stage.
3. The Third Reading refers to the discussion on the motion that the Bill be passed or returned. The arguments are based against or in favour of the Bill. After a Bill has been passed by one House, it is sent to the other House where it goes through the same procedure. The Bill is not again introduced in the other House, it is laid on the Table of the other House which constitutes its first reading there.
After a Bill has been passed by both Houses, it is presented to the President for his assent. The President can assent or withhold his assent to a Bill or he can return a non-Money Bill for reconsideration. If the Bill is again passed by both the Houses (with or without President’s amendment), he cannot withhold his assent.
3. More about an Act
An Act is generally divided into the following parts:
- Preamble, which gives the intention behind the Act
- Extent and applicability of the Act
- Definitions and interpretations of important terms
- Main provisions
- Penalties and punishments for violating the Act
- Powers of Government and its officials to make rules and regulations
The preamble to an Act reveals the intention behind an Act, contains the essential features of the Act and the socio-political objective it seeks to address. Courts refer to the preamble of an Act only when the provisions of the Act are ambiguous or too general. The preamble is expected to express the scope, object and purpose of the Act more comprehensively. It may narrate the grounds and cause for making the statute.
Rules and regulations are made under the powers given by an Act. They are part of “law”.
Illustration: Section 87 of the Information Technology Act empowers the Central Government to make rules to carry out the provisions of the said Act. Under this power, the Central Government passed the Information Technology (Qualification and Experience of Adjudicating Officers and Manner of Holding Enquiry) Rules, 2003.
Rules and regulations cannot go against the Act under which they have been passed. They also cannot go beyond the scope of the Act.
Check out the following Ordinance, Bill and Act:
- Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance, 2018
- The Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018
- The Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018
- Fundamentals of Cyber Law by Asian School of Cyber Laws