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Review: What happened in the first week of the winter session of Parliament?

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The winter session of parliament began recently with multiple important issues taken up like the repeal of the farm laws, assistive reproductive technology bill among other things. This week also saw a debate on important issues like the emergence of the new COVID-19 variant, booster doses. Here is a review of the first week of the winter session. 

The Winter Session of the Parliament commenced on 29 November 2021 and is scheduled to go on till 23 December 2021 with a total of 19 sittings over 25 days. A total of 29 Bills and issues related to supplementary demands have been identified for being taken up during this Winter Session. A total of 26 Bills have been listed for introduction, consideration, and passing in this session including the Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, The Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, and Farm laws repeal Bill, 2021. Three Bills replacing Ordinances viz; the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021, the Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021, and the Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Ordinance, 2021 are also on the list. 

Every week when the parliament is in session, we review the important developments including Bills, debates, questions & answers, and reports submitted, of the past week in both the Houses of the Parliament- Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. 

Key Developments

Day 1 of the Session witnessed the passing of the Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021. On the same day, 12 opposition members in the Rajya Sabha (MPs) were suspended for the remaining part of the winter session for their misconduct and unruly behaviour during the last Monsoon session. The members who were suspended from the current session include six members from the INC, two each from the TMC & Shiv Sena and one each from the CPI & the CPI(M). 

On the second day, both the Houses were adjourned in the afternoon until the next day due to interruptions.  A Parliamentary Delegation from the State Great Hural (Parliament) of Mongolia witnessed the proceedings of Rajya Sabha during their official one-week visit to India on Day 3. 

On the fourth day of Lok Sabha (02 December 2021), the House registered productivity of 204% which made it the productive day in the history of Lok Sabha. 96 MPs participated in a discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic which lasted for 11 hours and 3 minutes. The Speaker congratulated the members for the same. The second batch of Supplementary Demands for Grants for 2021-22 was presented in Parliament on Day 5.

Details of Bills taken up

The Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021, was passed in both Houses on the first day. Three Acts- The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act; The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act which came into force in the Monsoon Session of 2020 have been negated with the new legislation. Opposition parties raised their voices criticizing the way the repeal Bill was passed without any discussion.

The High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill, 2021, was introduced in the Lok Sabha. The Bill seeks to amend the High Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1954, and the Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Act, 1958 to regulate the salaries and conditions of service of the judges of High Courts and the Supreme Court of India.

Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2020 which was introduced in Lok Sabha in September 2020 was passed in the Lok Sabha after discussion. The Bill seeks to provide for the regulation of ‘Assisted Reproductive Technology’ services in the country. Assisted Reproductive Technology includes different methods of getting pregnant such as handling the sperm or the oocyte outside the human body and transferring the gamete or the embryo into the reproductive system of a woman. During the debate, the Bill was opposed by a Congress MP for excluding the LGBTQ population, live-in couples, and single men from accessing the technology. 

The Dam Safety Bill, 2021 which was introduced and passed in Lok Sabha in 2019 was passed in the Rajya Sabha during the ongoing session. The aim of the Bill is to provide for the surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of all specified dams across the country with the help of two bodies that are to be constituted- the National Committee on Dam Safety, and the National Dam Safety Authority. Multiple MPs from the opposition stated during the debate that the bill encroaches and transgresses on the powers of the states. 

The Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2021 (CVC) that seeks to amend the 2003 CVC Act to extend the term of the Director of Enforcement and the Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Bill, 2021 to extend the term of Director of the Delhi Special Police Establishment or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was also introduced in the Lok Sabha. The opposition opposed the motion of the Bill stating that it could be misused. 

Apart from these, multiple private member bills were also introduced such as the Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Compulsory Voting Bill, 2019, the Population Control Bill, 2019, etc. 

Important issues discussed

Following the emergence of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 which is now classified as a ‘Variant of Concern’ by the WHO, MPs raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha seeking clarification on booster dose of vaccine, and other measures are taken by the Government to prevent another wave of infections. Further, discussions were also held on whether India has plans to give vaccines against Dengue like in the US, and the steps are taken to increase the testing of Tuberculosis. 

Reports submitted

The second batch of ‘Supplementary Demands for Grants’ for the financial year 2021-22 was presented in Parliament which proposed a net cash outgo of Rs. 2.99 lakh crore for this year, and Rs 74,517 crore extra expenditure which would be matched by savings by different ministries.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee reports on Reforms in Content and Design of School Textbooks were tabled. Reports of the Committee on Communications and Information Technology on Suspension of Telecom Services/Internet and its impact and Ethical Standards in Media Coverage were also submitted. 

The Joint Committee of Parliament examining the Personal Data Protection Bill was given an extension till the last week of the ongoing Winter session to submit its report.

Questions & Answers

According to the response of the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Lok Sabha, a total number of 1,33,83,718 Indian nationals are living in foreign countries. Between 2017 and 30 September 2021, over 6 lakh Indians gave up their citizenship and 1.11 lakh renounced Indian citizenship in the nine months of 2021 alone. 

Multiple questions were raised about cryptocurrency. The government stated that Cryptocurrency including non-fungible tokens (NFTs) is unregulated in India and that the government does not collect data on transactions in cryptocurrency. Further, the government also added that it has been cautioning the users, holders, and traders of Virtual Currencies through RBI. It was also stated that a Bill on Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency was listed for introduction in the Lok Sabha in the ongoing session.

When asked about the number of deaths during the farmers’ protest against the 3 farm laws that were repealed recently, the government stated that ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ were State subjects and no such information was available centrally. However, Delhi Police reported the death of one farmer due to suicide. Furthermore, the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that it has no scheme of income compensation and jobs to support the family of the deceased in such cases and that the respective State Governments deal with matters relating to compensation and jobs.

Featured Image: Winter Session of Parliament

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