Interview with Chakshu Roy of PRS Legislative Research Making access to State laws easier
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Interview with Chakshu Roy of PRS Legislative Research Making access to State laws easier

Bar & Bench

Chakshu Roy from PRS Legislative Research is the man behind the Laws of India project, an online archive of digitised State laws. As anyone who has tried locating State laws will know, these laws can be particularly difficult to find. The Laws of India now contains over three thousand State-laws, some of which date back to the 19th century. We ask Chakshu the reasons which led to this project, the methods used and his thoughts on State legislation and legislators.

Chakshu Roy from PRS Legislative Research is the man behind the Laws of India project, an online archive of digitised State laws. As anyone who has tried locating State laws will know, these laws can be particularly difficult to find. The Laws of India now contains over three thousand State-laws, some of which date back to the 19th century. We ask Chakshu the reasons which led to this project, the methods used and his thoughts on State legislation and legislators.

Bar & Bench: Where did the idea to digitise State laws originate? Were there any particular experiences which led you to this initiative?

Chakshu Roy: At PRS Legislative Research, we analyse Bills pending in Parliament. We discovered that if we wanted to access Central legislation. it was fairly easy.  A large number of government and private websites have central laws and bills available for download. However, when we tried to access laws from different States we hit a wall. There was no central repository of State legislation. And State legislation is as important as Central legislation, so we decided to build the database ourselves.

Bar & Bench: Could you talk us through the steps involved in collecting and then digitising the laws?

Chakshu Roy: Digitising the laws from different States is a three step process: Access – Index – Online. The hardest part is getting access to State laws. It is not that the laws from the States are available online and they have to be aggregated in one database. Most State legislation is not available on the websites of the State governments. So accessing the laws involves repeated visits to the offices of the State governments and then obtaining the laws in hard copy from them. Thereafter, an index of these laws has to be prepared. This index is then updated with all the amendments that have been enacted for a particular law. Things also get complicated when new States are carved out of existing States. For example, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were earlier part of Punjab and so we have to ascertain which Punjab laws are applicable to the new States. While preparing the index, laws which have been repealed by the State legislatures also have to be taken into account. Digitising the laws is the last part and since, typing the laws is resource intensive and inefficient, therefore the laws are scanned into image pdf files and then uploaded on the website.

Bar & Bench: Obviously, this exercise is fairly challenging in terms of the sheer number of enactments. Can you give us an approximate number of laws that have been enacted by the various State Assemblies? 

Chakshu Roy: State governments do not know how many laws are implemented in their territories, so I don’t think I am in any position to answer that question.

Bar & Bench: What has been the response of the State governments? Have you found any particular States relatively easier to deal with? Which State, as per your experience, rates most favourably when it comes to ease of access to local laws?

Chakshu Roy: We have received positive responses from a number of State governments. For example, the law department in both Gujarat and Kerala were really helpful. Both of them provided soft copies of their State laws, making our job really easy. Law Departments in some States have maintained updated versions of their laws in the form of State codes and they shared these with us making our job really easy. Smaller States like Sikkim and Tripura have also done a good job of making their laws available to people online.

Bar & Bench: Has this project thrown up any interesting facts? Any observations made while compiling the laws?

Chakshu Roy: While working on this project one of the things that came across very starkly was how little attention is paid by people to State legislations. Some of these laws are well thought of and most of the others haven’t received as close a scrutiny as one would have liked for a piece of legislation that would impact the lives of the people of a State. What also stood out was how, sometimes State legislatures have passed laws to circumvent the decisions of High Courts.

Bar & Bench: Are there any general trends that you have noticed in the evolution of law-making? Do you find newer States such as Jharkhand and Chattisgarh to be more adaptive in the legislative process? Are there any defining characteristics of particular States with respect to their laws?

Chakshu Roy: Newer States have an advantage over older States. They inherit the learnings and also the staff from the States that they get carved out of. However, the legislative process in most States is not as rigorous as what we witness in Parliament. Most Bills in Parliament get referred to parliamentary standing committees, which dissect the Bill and come out with well researched reports. The reports of these committees are also enriched by testimony from stakeholders. Thereafter the Bill is debated extensively on the floor of the house. This however, is not the case with State Legislatures. State legislatures do not have a well functioning committee system. Most Bills do not get referred to committees and MLAs hardly get an opportunity to debate Bills in detail. In fact, we even conducted a study on this.

Bar & Bench: Who would you say are the primary users of your website? Do you find lawyers relying on your database or is it mainly used for research purposes?

Chakshu Roy: From the responses we have received, the lay people [other than lawyers, law students and professionals] are the primary users of the website. They use it for things that impact their day to day lives. A good example would be apartment ownership laws in a State. We also receive requests from government departments for providing them with laws that they have not been able to find. The lawyers and law students who use the website, use it for very specific legal research purposes.

Bar & Bench: What is the single, biggest challenge that you have faced in the entire exercise?

Chakshu Roy: Convincing State governments to share their laws with us.

Bar & Bench: What, according to you, has been the biggest impact of this project?

Chakshu Roy: Well, what has really happened is that we have upped the index for how people are informed about legislation. So compared to, say three years ago, now I think people are a lot more aware of the State laws.

Bar & Bench: Do you see any other organisations doing similar work? Are you looking to work with any other think tanks or organisations?

Chakshu Roy: To be honest, the Laws of India is a unique website so in terms of similar work, the answer is no. We definitely are looking for tie ups in terms of analytical or research projects. Say someone wants to analyse the various eye-donation laws of the country or perhaps focus on the education laws to discover the best practices followed by the different States. That is something we are most definitely interested in. In fact, we would really like to tie up with academic institutions who want to do this kind of research.

Bar and Bench: What  kind of researchers is PRS looking  to recruit? Is it mandatory that they have a law degree?

Chakshu Roy: Not at all. Basically, we are looking for people with an analytical bent of mind; it is not necessary that they should be lawyers. We are also looking for diversity in our organisation. Typically we look for people who can write really well and people who can express themselves.

Bar and Bench: Any new projects that you would like to talk about?

Chakshu Roy: We are currently in the process of improving and updating the website. With an increasing number of users, we are also trying to find innovative ways of making sure that people with low bandwidth connections can also download the files. Another big push area is to make the laws available in a text format. At PRS we are always on the lookout for things that we can do to ensure that legislative information is easily available.

(You can also read our interview with one of the founders of PRS Legislative Research, CV Madhukar here)

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