According to experts, 17 of the 29 bills tabled in the current session have not gone through a meaningful consultation mechanism with stakeholders. Due to a lack of proper consensus building, the government might face a similar backlash as it did during and after the passage of the three farm laws.
The Winter Session of the Parliament began on 29th November 2021 and is slated to end on December 23, 2021 after 19 sittings. The Prime Minister’s announcement to repeal the three farm laws made on 19th November 2021 captured the limelight and appears to have overshadowed the Winter Session of the Parliament. However, the government has lined up several other important bills for consideration during the session including amending the Electricity Act, defining the framework for cryptocurrency regulation and Personal Data Protection Bill.
The previous session of the Parliament witnessed heated protests from opposition parties as members in both the houses shouted slogans, tore official papers and crowded the well. It cast a shadow on the current session as 12 MPs from the Rajya Sabha were suspended on the first day on grounds of “unprecedented acts of misconduct” and “unruly and violent behaviour” for the events of the previous session. The current session therefore began on stormy grounds as opposition parties objected to the suspension calling it invalid and unreasonable. This was coupled with the ongoing demands to hold a discussion on the Farm Laws Repeal Bill amidst which the treasury bench passed the bill with voice vote.
A total of 29 Bills are pending in the Parliament of which five are listed for consideration and passing, and five for withdrawal. Bills on ongoing issues such as the Farm Laws Repeal Bill and Electricity Amendment Bill relating to the farmers’ protests, Bill on regulating cryptocurrencies and on expanding the Schedule Tribes list of Uttar Pradesh amongst others will be tabled during this session.
What Bills is the Government Considering?
The government will place several crucial bills in the ongoing winter session of the Parliament. It has already passed the Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021 on the first day to repeal the three contentious farm laws. Other than that, the government also has on its agenda bills including the Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotic Substances (Amendment) Bill, Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Bill, Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Bill, and Chartered Accountants, the Cost and Works Accountants and the Company Secretaries (Amendment) Bill.
It is also seeking to place on the floor bills such as the Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Second Amendment) Bill, Electricity (Amendment) Bill, Inter-Services Organizations (Command, Control and Discipline) Bill, Indian Antarctica Bill and the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (Amendment) Bill.
With the incumbent BJP having a comfortable majority in the Lower House with 301 MPs on its own and 331 together as the National Democratic Alliance, passing laws in the Lok Sabha will not be a challenging feat for the party. However, it is not in a similar position in the Rajya Sabha with 97 BJP MPs which is well below the majority mark of 120 seats. Along with its allies, the NDA has 114 seats in the Upper House and is supported by 3 Nominated Members and 1 Independent and is thus two short of the majority mark. In this scenario, a unified opposition can stall the progress in the upper house.
Farm Laws Repeal Bill 2021
During the first day of the winter session of the parliament, amidst ongoing protests, the government passed the Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021 to repeal the three contentious farm laws. The bill was passed in both houses of the Parliament with a voice vote even as the opposition MPs staged protests. The repeal comes as a welcome move for the farmers who have been protesting on Delhi’s borders against three laws since November 2020. The three laws the Bill repeals are — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance, Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
While the protesting farmers do not seem to be satisfied with the repeal of the three laws and have demanded a legal guarantee for the MSP, opposition parties such as the Congress have supported this demand and have raised the issue on and off the floor of the houses. The party has also demanded a condolence resolution for the farmers who died during the year-long protests against the three farm laws.
Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021
Another important law that the government seeks to table during this session relates to the regulation of cryptocurrencies in India. The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021 seeks to prohibit all private cryptocurrencies in India and create a facilitative framework for an official digital currency to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India. The bill allows for certain exceptions to a complete ban on cryptocurrencies to help promote the underlying technology and its use in other areas. The bill, first listed in the Budget Session 2021, was deferred for wider consultations across stakeholders.
Stakeholders are divided on the opinion to ban cryptocurrencies completely. Some such as the Blockchain and Crypto Assets Council of the Internet and Mobile Association of India point out that a blanket ban might encourage non-state players leading to increased unlawful usage of such currencies. Others, however, feel more positively about the government’s initiative to regulate various ‘private’ cryptocurrencies and their market and see it as a positive attempt for increased use of digital currencies in India’s financial setup.
Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019
The current session will also witness the government table a report of the Joint Committee of Parliament on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019. The bill was brought in the Parliament in 2019 and seeks to provide for the protection of personal data of individuals and establish a Data Protection Authority for the same.
While the move to introduce a framework to protect citizen’s personal data is welcomed by stakeholders across the board, several groups have expressed the need to review the terms of the bill to ensure it doesn’t give unreasonable power to the government. They also highlight the need to provide for parliamentary oversight on crucial aspects of decision making related to personal data and the regulatory framework.
Constitution (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill 2021
In the light of the impending Assembly Election in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP government at the center will introduce the Constitution (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill 2021 to amend the Schedule Tribe (ST) list in Uttar Pradesh. A parallel bill is due to be tabled for Tripura where the BJP is facing troubles due to the TMC’s expanding base.
The Bill for Uttar Pradesh will address long-standing demands by some communities such as the fisherfolk to include them in Uttar Pradesh’s list of STs. The fishermen community of the state is electorally influential and is concentrated mainly in Sonbhadra and adjoining districts of UP. It is seen as an attempt by the BJP to regain lost ground after the ongoing farmers’ protests, price rises and incidents such as the Lakhimpur Kheri and Hathras which have damaged its image across castes and classes significantly.
Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Bill and Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Bill
According to the Parliament’s legislative business list for the session, three bills have also been listed to replace the ordinances. Two of these include the Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Bill and the Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Bill proposed to extend the tenure of Directors of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). While under the original acts, the Directors have a tenure of minimum two years, the Ordinances permits extension of the tenure by up to one year at a time, till the completion of five years from the initial date of appointment.
Opposition parties have often accused the BJP government at the center of misusing central bodies such as the ED, the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC)for partisan gains. The dissatisfaction was evident when the government passed the ordinances on November 14, 2021. The Congress said the government has used the two agencies as “henchmen ‘’ and they are now being rewarded so that “malicious prosecution” is used to silence opposing voices. Opposition parties also questioned the need for the ordinances when the Parliament was due to convene in less than a fortnight. According to TMC’s Derek O’Brien, the ordinances were brought to “mock” Parliament, while the CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury dubbed the move as “fishy” and an attempt to avoid scrutiny of laws in the Parliament.
Apart from the above-mentioned Bills three bills earlier referred to standing committees are also on the agenda of the government which include Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill, National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (Amendment) Bill and Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill.
While there is a consensus on the provisions of many bills scheduled to be tabled in this session, experts such as Jagdeep S. Chhokar, co-founder of the Association for Democratic Rights and Arun P.S., a policy researcher based out of Kerala feel that there is a lack of pre-legislative consultation mechanism on crucial bills. This might jeopardize the government’s ability to secure sufficient support for them. According to experts, 17 of the 29 bills tabled in the current session have not gone through a meaningful consultation mechanism with stakeholders. Due to a lack of proper consensus building, the government might face a similar backlash as it did during and after the passage of the three farm laws. Bills such as the one to increase the tenure of CBI and ED directors have already faced opposition across groups. A lack of a proper consultative mechanism will lead the government to set itself up for further problems concerning other proposed laws as well.
Damini Mehta /New Delhi
With inputs from Devak Singh and Vrinda Tulsian, Interns at Polstrat.
From Polstrat, a non-partisan political consultancy which aims to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.