We in India are living on a treasure trove of dumb laws and like the imbeciles that we are, we plan to throw them away. Our politicians are ready to make these laws the debating point during an election but none of those in power have the creative intelligence to employ these very laws as tourism promoters. Let me take a few of these dumb laws and explain what I mean… because if medical tourism, sex tourism, and adoption tourism thrive, why can’t our people earn from dumb-laws tourism?

The Chulha tax dhabas and homestays

The story goes back to 1911, when the British acquired a few villages to include them in the new Imperial Capital. The residents of villages that include Nagali Razapur, Todapur, Dashghara, Jhilmil Tahirpur and Arakpur Bagh Mochi were asked by the British to go on living as usual on this acquired land but pay a  Chulha tax of Rs 1 anna per month. This was charged from every family and was determined by the number of chulhas each family had in their home. This continued till 1975. The politicians then began their rant about abolishing the Chulha tax that was levied on people who came to the capital after Partition… and this rant got transformed into a demand to get the affected land in the areas mentioned into free-hold plots.

I know that the original 300 odd families that were affected have now grown into a human mass of more than 20,000… and so the entire issue is bordering on being utterly ridiculous. I believe that if the land is finally made free-hold and given to the owners, we will end up having a lot more court cases than happy homes.

The point, however, is that this law must be converted into a tourist attraction. Why can’t we have a few families in these localities have real chulhas and open Chulha dhabas or Chulha homestays? Tourists coming in can buy little chulhas as souvenirs, have chulha-cooked food, stay in thatched rooms for an early twentieth century feel… and then maybe even have a go at making a chapatti or a roti on a chulha! Well, they can use a chulha on paying a specified tax and be eligible for a Chulha tax certificate signed by the local MLA.

I’m sure every State in India has some or the other antique law still existing that can be converted into ‘tourism USP’.

Be a treasure hunter in India

The Indian Treasure Trove Act, 1878 states: If you don’t file a report to police regarding any treasure (it can be as small as Rs10/-), you can be sent to jail.

There is no point in identifying this law and working to get it removed. Let the law be there and entertain tourists. Now this one is a gem of a law and all that the authorities need to do is to open a small part of a few jails with history all over the country where tourists go on a treasure hunt. As they walk around reading plaques with the historical significance written and see a few artefacts of historical importance, they can be encouraged to pick up a stamped currency note lying under loose bricks… only to get ‘caught’ as they are leaving the room.

These tourists are obviously trying to escape with our treasure and so must be jailed. The second part of this tourism drama unfolds with the tourists being herded into their cells, given jail food… and then released because the treasure that they were trying to take was a fake currency note. We can plan every tourist to be given a certificate of having being jailed and spent some time in a cell that once housed the freedom fighters of India.

Let our tourists enjoy spending time in a jail that has history attached to it… and weave in a ridiculous law and even a certificate. Of course, all this will come at a cost. These chosen jails can also have the fake treasure note signed by the tourist and pasted on the roof of the jail cafeteria. This will give even the cafeteria an aura of its own.

For those cities where the jails do not have much history

We have another law that is equally funny… and the law is about the prohibition on wearing a Khadi Gandhi topi in an Indian prison.

So those prisons that cannot have the treasure hunt, can pick up the ‘wear a khadi Gandhi topi inside a prison, get jailed and enjoy our hospitality for a few hours. The tourists here can even have the option of changing into prison clothes and of getting themselves clicked with a Gandhi topi that they can then take with them as a souvenir. By the way, Gopal Krishna Gokhale in 1911 had written: “We regret the decision of the Government to place it on the statute book.” But come on Mr Gokhale, no need to regret… just let the present decision-makers turn this law into a tourism USP.

The telegram brought to life

The Indian Telegraph Act passed by the British in 1885 still exists though it is in the list of those where the government might want to repeal. Come on, why do we want to let this wonderful Act disappear without a trace. Let it is be there as it isn’t troubling anyone now. In fact, why not convert this and the other Acts that are redundant, a part of Heritage Acts that will no longer be valid in a court of law. Let them keep existing in the books… after all they do have so much history tagged to them.

Now the point is… how do we transform this Act into tourism USP. My suggestion is that we have one area in the Eastern Courts on Janpath converted into a working telegraph office. Yes, a working telegraph office where tourists can actually see real people sending and receiving telegrams… and yes, the ones that were sent through morse code and where the recipient got a telegram with the message gummed on it! Let us create an entire telegram experience where the tourist can actually send a telegram that will be received there itself and handed over to him by the telegram man! We can, maybe, make the telegram ask for a bakshish as well!

What about the other dumb and redundant Acts and laws?

Well, there are quite a few other laws that need not necessarily be bundled and thrown into the bin. Let them all remain with us. Some of these laws exist but not many are aware of their existence.

How many of us know that though an alcoholic beverage cannot be home-delivered in Delhi, beer and wine can be. I remember this because of a blogging assignment I did last year and I was to be sent a bottle of Black Dog whisky. The bottle never reached me because it could not be home-delivered… and I was busy with other things and couldn’t go personally to get it.

There is then the issue about legal drinking ages in India that do not have uniformity. Maharashtra law puts the legal drinking age as 25 whereas it is 18 in States like Goa, Himachal Pradesh, UP, Sikkim and Puducherry. Funny? Yes, it is funny because an 18 year old from Goa discovers on entering Mumbai that he cannot be legally served even beer!

The Indian Penal Code of 1860, Section 497 says that it is illegal for a married man to have an extra-marital affair with married women. The law takes a sudden ridiculous turn when it goes on to say that married men can, however, have an extramarital affair with unmarried girls/ women. I wish someone could turn this law into a play for the theatre…

The Indian Majority Act, 1875 has a funny side to it. It is wise enough to say that a man cannot get married until he is 21, but it adds that this man can adopt a child once he is 18. So here we have the ridiculous paradox of an 18 year old father who cannot get married! I repeat that such laws must not be repealed because they give so much ammunition to stand-up comedians and creative writers.

We all know that the Serais Act of 1867 says that we have a right to ‘demand water, free of cost, from any hotel at any time for himself or herself and for his/her pets or any animals.’ However, the same Act then adds that, if refused, a penalty of Rs20/- is liable to be imposed on the erring party. Some more laws that are going to evolve into comedy acts in later years are being thrown at us by our legislatures and these include those from the traffic laws and the ones where a single cigarette will not be sold to a person. But I’ll talk about these laws in a separate post.

By the way, repealing old and redundant laws isn’t the only solution to tell people that the government is alert and active… our decision-makers need to know how to convert every opportunity into something keeps alive our heritage (even old laws that need to be repealed) and turning them into money-churning bonanzas.

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Let the Chulha tax & other dumb laws become Travel USPs

Let the Chulha tax & other dumb laws become Travel USPs

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Arvind Passey
16 January 2015