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Parliament Review: Here is what happened in the third week of the 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 last week.

In the second week of the Winter session of the Parliament, the High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2021 was passed in the Lower House. The Minister of State for Finance moved to introduce The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in Lok Sabha which was opposed by the opposition stating that it was an example of bad drafting of the law. The week also witnessed important discussions on climate change. Here is a review of the third week. 

Key developments

On the first day of the third week of the ongoing winter session of the Parliament (13 December to 17 December 2021), Congress MP Sonia Gandhi raised the issue of gender insensitivity in questions prepared by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) for Class 10 exams held on 11 December 2021. She stated in the Lok Sabha, “I raise a strong objection to such blatantly misogynist material finding its way into an important examination conducted by the CBSE. It reflects extremely poorly on the standards of education and testing, and it goes against all norms and principles of a progressive and empowered society.” She further demanded an apology from CBSE and asked the union education ministry to review the gender sensitivity standard in its curriculum. On the same day, CBSE dropped the passage from the paper and has decided to award full marks to the students while issuing an apology. 

The protests against the suspension of 12 Rajya Sabha MPs from the ongoing session for their unruly behaviour in the Budget Session continued even in the third week of the ongoing winter session. Protests, slogans, and boycotts by the opposition continued. Matters relating to the Lakhimpur Kheri incident and SIT report were raised but not discussed in the Parliament because of which both Houses were adjourned multiple times. The Lok Sabha hardly functioned for 40 minutes on 15 December 2021, and 20 minutes on 16 December 2021. On 17 December 2021, the Rajya Sabha was adjourned for the week within 17 minutes into the session. 

Details of Bills taken up

The High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2021 was discussed in the Rajya Sabha. During the discussion, members raised concerns on the functioning of the judiciary such as the representation of women and SC/ST/OBC, transparency in appointment of judges, undertrial prisoners, functioning of Gram Nyayalayas, among others. The Bill was eventually passed. 

The Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was passed in the Lower House. The Bill replaces an ordinance that was promulgated on 30 September 2021 to correct a drafting error. During the discussion, members stated that penal provisions should not be applied retrospectively and that the Bill would violate Fundamental Rights. 

The Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2021 (CVC) seeks to amend the 2003 CVC Act, the Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to extend the tenure of the chiefs of the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate to a maximum of five years were passed in the Rajya Sabha. The Bills were passed in the Lok Sabha during the first week of the session. 

The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021 aimed at encouraging the cultivation of medicinal plants, the Indian system of medicine, facilitate fast-tracking of research, patent application process among other things was introduced in the Lok Sabha. 

The Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021 was also introduced in the Lok Sabha to rationalize and amend the relevant provisions since protections and penalties for contravention differ for different classes of animals. 

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman introduced the Chartered Accountants, the Cost and Works Accountants and the Company Secretaries (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to strengthen the existing mechanism and ensure speedy disposal of the disciplinary cases related to Chartered Accountants and Company Secretaries.

The National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021 seeking to regulate anti-doping activities in sports was also introduced in Lok Sabha by Sports Minister Anurag Singh Thakur. However, none of these were passed. 

Other important issues discussed 

Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury raised the issue of the ‘Omicron’ variant of COVID-19 in the Lower House and said “tentacle of Omicron has been spreading in other States also” and urged the government to be alert about the same. He added that the government must increase the speed of work on vaccines for children. Third dose and booster dose administration were also demanded by the opposition. There was a short duration discussion on the situation arising out of cases of Omicron variant in the country in the Rajya Sabha. The Union Government listed out the measures taken to deal with this, such as issuance of guidelines, increase in RTPCR tests and uploading negative reports in the Air Suvidha portal for those entering India from abroad. The government added that the symptoms of the virus were mild compared to other variants.

Reports submitted 

The report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 was tabled in the Parliament. The 500+ pages long report reviewed India’s first proposed data protection law after two years of introduction of the bill in the Lower House. The committee recommended that the word ‘personal’ be dropped from the name of the Personal Data Protection Bill to cover both personal and non-personal data. Further, it recommended an amendment that “sensitive personal data shall not be shared with any foreign government or agency unless such sharing is approved by the central government”. Another recommendation is that where applicable, companies which process personal data must show their “fairness of algorithm or method used for processing of personal data”.

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The Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, and Pensions tabled the report “Study of atrocity cases against Scheduled Casts and Scheduled Tribes with respect to implementation of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 with special reference to cases related to withholding of pensions and retirement benefits of SC/ST employees”. The committee asked the Centre to verify caste certificates of employees of the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes Community within six months of joining. 

Important Questions asked

In response to a question raised in the Lok Sabha on the number of individuals including students arrested/granted bail/convicted/released under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the country during the last 3 years, the Ministry of Home Affairs responded that a total of 4,690 people were arrested under UAPA across the country, according to the data maintained by NCRB. Out of these, 2,501 individuals accounting for about 53% were below 30 years. Further, when asked if the Government has plans to amend the existing Act, the Ministry stated that no amendments in the UAPA were under consideration for now.

The Ministry of Home Affairs stated that a total of seven plots of land located in the Jammu division have been purchased by persons from outside the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, according to the information provided by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir in reply to the question raised on the status of purchase and sale of land in Jammu & Kashmir. Another question on whether civilian killings in Jammu & Kashmir have increased, the Home Ministry responded that the numbers of civilian killings have remained in the range of 37-40 every year between 2017 to 2021, as on 30 November 2021. 

In response to a question whether the Government has fixed any target for launching a manned space mission in the near future and details of new projects with respect to space research and satellite technology, the government stated that crewed space mission Gaganyaan was targeted for launch before India’s 75th Independence anniversary in 2022. However, the launch has been delayed because of the first and second waves of the pandemic. During the last five years from April 2016 to March 2021, a total number of 27 satellite missions and 25 launch vehicle missions were successfully accomplished by ISRO, as per this response. 

In a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha on the ban of Chinese products, the government stated that there were representations from the public and industry to boycott the import of Chinese goods citing strained relations with China. He added that the Government takes appropriate measures to regulate the import of goods including those related to the national interest. Further, India and China are both members of the WTO and so, any trade restriction imposed must be WTO compliant. The Minister added that the Government has from time to time reviewed and taken WTO compliant measures to address the concerns raised by various stakeholders to have a holistic global trade strategy.  

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