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Demystifying legislative jargon

April 5, 2013 by

For the layman, the number of terms used by law and policy makers may be confusing. This post is an attempt to demystify the various terms used in the legislative and rule making process.

1. Law: An Act, Ordinance, Regulation, Rule, (Order, bye-law, etc.) which is enforceable i.e. required to be followed by all persons.

2. Draft Law: A draft of a law or legislation is the first stage of law making procedure. It is a proposal for a new Act or an amendment to an existing law. This can be drafted by anyone – a stakeholder, the related government department, a civil society organisation. A Draft Law obviously has no force of law and is only a proposal for a law. It would require to be tabled before Parliament/State Legislature, which can only be done by a MP or MLA.

3. Bill: This is another term for a draft law. The term is usually used for a law which is ready for introduction before a House of Parliament/State Legislature in terms of format.

4. Ordinance: This is a temporary law made by the Executive to address extraordinary, unforeseen and emergent situations at a time when the Parliament is not in session. It is proposed by the Executive (Prime Minister and his Cabinet) and signed by the President of India to come into effect. An Ordinance is valid till six weeks after the Parliament reassembles. The same limitations on law making that attend an Act also apply to an Ordinance (such as it must not violate fundamental rights and that it must be within the competence of the legislature; for e.g. a central ordinance cannot be on a matter in the state list).

5. Act: This is the final law which is passed by the Legislature. A Bill once passed by both Houses of Parliament and on receiving the President’s assent becomes a Central Act. A State Act is an Act passed by the Legislature of a State and assented to by the Governor of the State. However, an Act comes into effect on notification in the Official Gazette on the date mentioned in the notification.

6. Amendment Bill/Act or simply ‘Amendment’: An Amendment Bill seeks to and an Amendment Act amends an existing Act. An Amendment Bill needs to go through the same procedure as a normal Bill to become an Act. A Constitutional Amendment Bill/Act seeks to amend or amends the Constitution of India.

7. Subordinate or Delegated Legislation: Acts provide the main principles of law and policy which require rules for their operation. An Act usually has a provision giving a particular authority or government department (i.e. the executive wing of government) the power to make rules, regulations, and/or by-laws for the operation of the Act. These Rules or Regulations are required to be within the scope of the parent Act. Once drafted, approved, and notified by the authority/department they are tabled before the legislature (Parliament/State Assembly) where the Committee on Subordinate Legislation may evaluate the Rules for conformity with the parent Act and the Constitution. They are referred to as subordinate or delegated legislation since they are subordinate to the parent Act and the power to formulate them is delegated by the legislature to a subordinate executive body. They can be amended by the executive body as well.

8. Rules: These are a form of subordinate/delegated legislation made in exercise of a power conferred by an enactment. As per the General Clauses Act, the term ‘Rules’ includes a Regulation made as a rule under any enactment (i.e. rules and regulations are similar in the way they are formulated, but differ in content. For e.g. the Employee State Insurance Act, 1948 gives the Central and State Governments the power to make rules to give effect to the provisions of the Act in Section 95 and 96 and give the ESI Corporation the power to make Regulations for the administration of the affairs of the Corpora¬tion and for carrying into effect the provisions of the Act. These Sections also provide the scope of what the Rules and Regulations should cover.

9. Notification: A notification is issued by the executive wing of government (central/state) in exercise of a power granted under an enactment. It is usually in the manner of public announcement of an action under a particular provision such as notification of an area as a slum area under Section 3 of the TN Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act, 1971. It is an executive action under a legislation.

10. Government Order (G.O.) and Circular: G.Os and Circulars are also forms of executive action in pursuance of powers invested in the executive. They need not be relatable directly to any particular enactment, but they cannot be contrary to any law in force (in terms of content and procedure).

11. Policy Documents: These are in the nature of broad principles of the ruling government on different matters of importance. For e.g. the National Environment Policy, 2006.

12. Guidelines: These are framed by a government department (the executive), usually a governing ministry or other overseeing body, in furtherance of a policy document for the purpose of explaining to the implementing body how to go about its role.

13. Gazette of India or the Official Gazette of a State: These are published on a weekly basis by the Central Government and State Governments to give notice to the public of, among other things, proposed laws (Acts, Rules, etc.), to give effect to proposed laws and to notify the public of executive action taken in furtherance of an enactment (Notification, Government Order, Circulars, etc.). When a law is being given effect to, the Gazette mentions the date from which such law shall come into effect. The Gazettes are authorised legal documents of the respective Governments and are meant to be the most reliable source of Government notices.

The Central Gazette is available at:
The Gazette of the State of Tamil Nadu is available at:

Written by Avni Rastogi, researcher at Transparent Chennai.