Your Handbook To The Winter Session Of Parliament

A closer look at the government’s legislative business gives an insight into its priorities, writes Chakshu Roy.
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Presidential Guards at Parliament House, in New Delhi, on  Jan. 31, 2020. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)</p></div>
Presidential Guards at Parliament House, in New Delhi, on Jan. 31, 2020. (Photographer: T. Narayan/Bloomberg)

Legislative business in Parliament has suffered in the last two years. Last year, the government did not convene the winter session due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This year the budget session was cut short due to assembly elections. Then in the monsoon session, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha passed multiple bills amidst disruptions. Hopefully, the repeal of the three farm laws will create a conducive atmosphere for debate in the winter session. In the upcoming 19-day session, the government plans to get parliamentary approval on 31 diverse and complex bills. A closer look at the government’s legislative business gives an insight into its priorities.

The first thing to note is that the government’s legislative plan is open to change. It may choose to bring in new proposals not mentioned in its agenda or go slow on bills that it was planning to bring before the two houses of Parliament. For example, in the monsoon session earlier this year, the government brought in eight laws that were not part of its legislative agenda. One of them was to remove retrospective taxation on income earned from the sale of shares of a foreign company.

Pending Bills And New Ones

10 of the 31 bills mentioned in this session’s legislative business are the ones the government intended to bring in earlier sessions – for example, the Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021. The plan was for the government to introduce it in the budget session at the beginning of the year. Now the bill is listed again for this session. Before bringing a legislative proposal to Parliament, it needs to be approved by the cabinet. No such approval for the Cryptocurrency Bill came from the cabinet meeting held on Nov. 24.

Of the remaining 21 bills on the government’s winter session agenda, 16 are new law-making proposals. Some of them are changing existing laws, such as an amendment to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. It would be the second change to the country’s evolving bankruptcy law this year. Reports seem to suggest that this amendment will deal with cross-border insolvency cases and allow insolvency professionals access to assets of corporate debtors outside the country. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India on Nov. 24 invited comments on the subject till Dec. 15, and that may delay the introduction of this legislation in Parliament.

Another new bill listed in the session is about fulfilling a budgetary promise about the privatisation of two public sector banks.

On the topic of announcements made in the budget, the statement about consolidating four different market laws into a single Securities Market Code is missing from the government’s list of bills for the winter session.

Last month, the Power Ministry had stated that it would be proposing changes to the Energy Conservation Act of 2001. This change is intended to enhance demand for renewable energy and is listed for introduction consideration, and passing in the winter session.

A bill dealing with electricity has also been on the government’s radar for some time. It is called the Electricity Amendment Bill, which will de-licence power distribution to bring in more competition. It was supposed to be brought in the monsoon session and is again part of government business.

Two new legislative proposals, one dealing with emigration and the other with the discipline of armed forces personnel, are also on the cards. The government’s last attempt to amend the Emigration Act of 1983 was in 2002. That bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 13th Lok Sabha. Now the government is proposing an overhaul of the emigration law to “establish a robust, transparent and comprehensive emigration management framework that facilitates safe and orderly migration”.

The Inter-Services Organizations (Command, Control and Discipline) Bill, 2021, is a new law that intends to address the discipline of members of the three armed forces. Ordinarily, the Army, Navy and Air Force Act cover their respective personnel. This law will come into play when such personnel are serving in an interservice organisation.

Not On The List, But Expect Movement On...

When looking at the government’s legislative plan for the winter session, it is also helpful to look at bills that are not on the agenda. Two missing ones that stand out are the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill and the Personal Data Protection Bill. Both these bills have completed their process of technical scrutiny by Parliament and are ready for discussion.

The DNA Bill first came to Lok Sabha in 2018 and lapsed since both houses didn’t pass it before the dissolution of Lok Sabha. After the general elections, the government reintroduced it. The bill provides the framework for using DNA technology and prescribes safeguards for identifying individuals in certain civil and criminal cases.

The Standing Committee on Science and Technology headed by Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Jairam Ramesh scrutinised the bill and submitted its report in this year’s budget session. It recommended deleting DNA profiles of individuals acquitted of a crime in 30 days and doing away with regional DNA data banks that do not provide additional benefits. It also recommended that the regulatory board for DNA technology be independent and not comprised mainly of serving government officials.

The Personal Data Protection Bill has also gone through extensive scrutiny by a Joint Parliament Committee. Media reports indicate that the committee (first headed by Lok Sabha MP Meenakshi Lekhi and then by her colleague PP Chaudhary) agrees on many of the legislation’s provisions except those regarding the use of personal data by the government.

The committee is expected to present its report in Parliament in the first week of the session.

In the case of the DNA Bill, the government will be considering the committee’s recommendations and, after that, bring in appropriate amendments. It will follow a similar process for the suggestions by the JPC on the PDP bill. But in case the JPC decides to submit a revised law—as done by other JPCs like on the insolvency bill— parliamentary rules allow the JPC’s bill to be taken up directly for discussion in Parliament.

Ensuring Adequate Scrutiny

Nineteen days is not enough time for Parliament to rigorously scrutinise and pass laws that will have far-reaching implications across sectors. Our highest legislature should ensure that it utilises the depth and experience of its committees to comprehensively examine each new law before giving its approval to them. This session would be an opportunity for Parliament to implement its existing scrutiny processes and ensure laws are as effective as the legislature intended them to be.

Chakshu Roy heads the legislative and civic engagement initiatives at PRS Legislative Research.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

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