An oft-quoted legal maxim is that ignorance of the law is no excuse. However, in order for citizens to know the law, it is necessary that the law be made available to them in an affordable, accessible manner—most importantly, in a language they can understand. This is no simple task in a democracy of a billion-plus people speaking 121 languages. Even three-quarters of a century after independence and over two decades after the birth of the internet, the Indian state is still struggling to make available all Indian laws available to Indian citizens in languages they can understand. Three specific policy issues stand out in this context: the India Code website launched by the legislative department, the plain language drafting movement, and lastly, the issue of authorised translations of law.
After a law is enacted by Parliament and receives the President’s assent, it is published in the Gazette of India. This version, considered the authoritative text of the law and recognised in the evidence act, is relied upon by courts. In reality, the gazette has been relatively inaccessible and the legal community mostly relies on commercial publishers who publish annotated versions of the bare text published in the gazette. Unlike the government, these private publishers also incorporate subsequent amendments to the law and produce a consolidated version. With the birth of the internet, the government had an opportunity to radically rethink the manner in which it disseminated legal information—and took baby steps by launching the India Code portal.