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Parliament Review: Here is what happened in the last week of 2021 Winter Session

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Every week when the parliament is in session, Factly reviews the important developments including on bills, debates, questions & answers, and reports submitted, of the past week in both the Houses of the Parliament- Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Here is what happened during the last week of the 2021 winter session. 

The Winter Session of the Parliament which began on 29 November 2021 was adjourned sine die on 22 December 2021, a day earlier than scheduled on completion of essential government business. There was a total of 18 sittings spread over a period of 24 days during the session. The fourth week of the session had only three working days. In this weekly review of parliamentary proceedings, we review the key developments not only in the past week but the entire 2021 Winter session of the Parliament.

Weekly review

The fourth and last week of the winter session of the Parliament witnessed protests by the opposition on the Lakhimpur Keri issue and the suspension of 12 MPs from the Rajya Sabha, because of which both the Houses were adjourned multiple times, just like in the earlier weeks. A total of three Bills were introduced. On the last day, both Houses were adjourned immediately after the closing remarks.  Rajya Sabha MP of TMC, Derek O Brien was suspended from the Rajya Sabha for the rest of the Winter session for throwing the Rajya Sabha Rule Book towards the Chair during the discussion on the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021. 

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Details of Bills taken up

Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that seeks to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to implement certain electoral reforms was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 20 December 2021 and passed on the same day. The Bill aims to remove duplication in the electoral roll by linking the electoral roll data with Aadhar. Moreover, 4 qualifying dates i.e., the first days of January, April, July, and October have been proposed to include new voters who turn 18 instead of one single qualifying date as 01 January. This is intended to include a large number of voters who turn 18 but miss out because of only one qualifying date. 

The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 20 December 2021 by Law Minister, Kiren Rijiju amidst opposition. Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, among other MPs, opposed the introduction, stating that the Bill violates the Right to Privacy and calls for referring it to the Standing Committee. He referred to the verdict of Puttaswamy Vs. Union of India, which limited the use of Aadhaar solely for welfare programs and linking with PAN Card. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor added that Aadhar is a proof of residence and not citizenship while opposing the introduction of the bill. However, Lok Sabha passed the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill amid strong opposition. The Bill was introduced and passed in the Rajya Sabha the next day, amidst opposition. 

Minister of Women and Child Development, Smriti Irani introduced the Prohibition of the Child Marriage Amendment Bill, 2021 which seeks to increase the legal age of marriage for women from 18 years to 21 years, bringing it at par with that of men by amending personal laws including the Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872, the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, the Special Marriage Act, 1954, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Foreign Marriage Act, 1969. 

The introduction of the Bill was opposed by several MPs who demanded that the government had not held any consultations with stakeholders and that it had brought the Bill in a hurry. Since personal laws will be affected, some MPs called for referring the Bill to a standing committee. Smriti Irani added that research showed that between the years 2015 and 2020, as many as 20 lakh child marriages were stopped from being held. The bill was referred to the standing committee. 

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The Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that was passed in the Lower House in the third week to replace an ordinance on the same was passed in the Upper House.

The Chartered Accountants, the Cost and Works Accountants and the Company Secretaries (Amendment) Bill (2021) were introduced in the Lok Sabha during the second week to strengthen the existing mechanism and ensure speedy disposal of the disciplinary cases related to Chartered Accountants and Company Secretaries was also referred to the Parliamentary standing committee. 

The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 aimed at encouraging the cultivation of medicinal plants, the Indian system of medicine, facilitating fast-tracking of research, patent application process among other things has also been referred to the joint committee for further scrutiny. 

The Appropriation (No.5) Bill relating to the Supplementary Demands for Grants for the year 2021- 22 which was passed by Lok Sabha, and sent to Rajya Sabha, will be deemed to have been passed by both Houses after the expiry of 14 days.

Important issues discussed

There was a brief discussion on the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus in the Rajya Sabha with members asking the government to ensure that the COVID-19 mismanagement that occurred during the 2021 assembly elections is not repeated during the upcoming elections.

During the discussion on Supplementary Demands for Grants, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman informed the Lok Sabha that banks recovered ₹13,109.17 crores by selling the assets of fugitives like Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. She added that the monies of the defaulters, who fled the country, has been received and put it in the public sector banks, and that the money of depositors is safe. 

Important reports presented

The Standing Committee on Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Food Processing’s report on the Pesticides Management Bill, 2020 was laid in the Parliament. The report laid out suggestions to further strengthen the Bill that was introduced last year. Arguments were made regarding the penal provisions and punishment stipulated in the Bill which has been supported by the committee. The report supported having stringent penal provisions to ensure deterrence- to prevent the sale and use of banned and spurious pesticides. 

Questions raised

The Environment Ministry in response to a question of deaths of persons in tiger attacks and poaching stated that in 2020, a total of 44 persons lost their lives to tiger attacks. A total of 106 tiger deaths were reported in the same year including 14 deaths due to poaching. 

The Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D)’s data showed that female police comprise only 10.3% of the total strength of police as of 01 January 2020, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs as per response to a question on the subject in the Lok Sabha. Further, the Ministry added that it had issued multiple advisories to all the State Governments to increase the representation of women police to 33% of the total strength. The goal is to ensure that each police station should have at least 3 women Sub-Inspectors and 10 women police Constables so that a women’s help desk is manned round the clock.

When asked about the data on hate crimes, the Home Ministry replied that ‘in the year 2017, NCRB collected data on cases of mob-lynching, hate crimes, etc. It was observed that the data was unreliable as these crimes etc. have not been defined. Hence, collection of data in this regard was discontinued.’

In response to a question in the Lok Sabha on drug abuse, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment referred to ‘Comprehensive National Survey on Extent and Pattern of Substance Use in India’ conducted in 2018 which identified that 1.8% of the children less than 18 years of age were using Opioids while 0.6% of women in the 10 to 75 years age bracket used Cannabis. The response also listed the measures taken by the government to curb drug abuse. 

A question on the deaths in educational institutional institutions such as IITs, IIMs, IISc, and other central universities was raised in the Lok Sabha. The Education Ministry responded by saying that between 2014 and 2021, a total of 122 students committed suicide which included 71 students belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Minorities. 

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Summary of the entire session

In the Rajya Sabha, there were 18 sittings during which the House sat for 45 Hours 35 Minutes. A further 44 hours and 01 minutes were lost on issues like demand for revocation of suspension of Members, killing of civilians in the incident of firing in Mon District of Nagaland, and demand for resignation by MoS in the Ministry of Home Affairs in the light of the report of SIT on the Lakhimpur Keri incident. Meanwhile, the Lok Sabha was more productive as it sat for 83 hours 20 minutes in 18 sittings and only 18 hours 48 minutes were lost in interruptions. The productivity of Lok Sabha was approximately 82% and that of Rajya Sabha was approximately 48%. 

13 Bills (12 Bills in Lok Sabha and 1 Bill in Rajya Sabha) were introduced during the session. A total of 11 Bills were passed by both Houses. One Bill namely the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was referred to the Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament and five Bills were referred to respective Standing Committees.

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Source: PIB

Two short duration discussions on the COVID-19 pandemic and various aspects related to it, and on Climate Change were held in the Lok Sabha while Rajya Sabha had a discussion on the situation arising out of cases of Omicron variant of COVID-19 virus in the country. 

Featured Image: Parliament Review

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