Winter session of Parliament: Key bills and issues on the plate

From FRDI Bill to the triple talaq draft legislation, the lawmakers are debating matters of national importance.

 |  7-minute read |   20-12-2017
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The Winter session of Parliament started on December 15 of this year and would last till January 5, 2018, while debating a number of significant draft legislations. While 25 Bills are scheduled for consideration and passing, 14 are listed for introduction, while a few ordinances are slated to be replaced by Acts after the Bills are discussed and passed by the two houses of Parliament.

rajya-sabha_inside_122017022437.jpgRajya Sabha adjourned on Wednesday after opposition walked to the Well over allegations made by PM Narendra Modi against former PM Manmohan Singh 

With Speaker Sumitra Mahajan at the helm of the Lok Sabha and vice-president Venkaiah Naidu holding the reins of the Rajya Sabha, there’s much action in Parliament. Hot-button issues such as triple talaq would see a legislation, as directed by the Supreme Court, while controversial Bills like the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017, introduced in August this year during the Monsoon session, would see strong arguments from various MPs and joint parliamentary committees (JPC).

Here are the key Bills and issues that are being/would be discussed, and passed, if so, in the current Winter session of Parliament.

The Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017

The FRDI Bill intends to set up a Resolution Corporation to monitor financial firms, anticipate risk of failure and take corrective or punitive action, if required. While this impacts banks, non-banking financial organisations (NBFCs), investment and insurance companies, the Bill is currently undergoing scrunity by a JPC. A particularly controversial “bail-in” clause in the Bill has spooked depositors and observers alike, making the Bill a matter of political debate from the media and Opposition alike.

The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, 2017

This Bill that intends to grant the National Commission on Backward Classes (NCBC) constitutional status, at par with the National Commissions for SCs and STs, has been tabled in April, 2017 and is due for consideration and passage this Winter session. The Bill was already passed in the Lok Sabha in the Monsoon session but the Rajya Sabha sent it back with recommendations, and now it would be re-introduced in the Lok Sabha for deliberation.

The NCBC would be a constitutional body advising the central government on issues pertaining to socially, educationally and economically backward classes and welfare measures as guided by the constitution. The Bill seeks to repeal the NCBC Act, 1993, and replace it with the current legislation. The five-membered body would be presenting its annual reports to the President of India.

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The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017

This is a hot-button issue Bill that seeks to criminalise instant triple talaq, which the Supreme Court invalidated earlier this year as “unconstitutional and void”. The Bill also seeks to give Muslim woman the right to seek maintenance from her husband, in case of instant triple talaq before a magistrate’s court. The Bill is being watched closely for possible transgressions and overstepping of the SC order in August this year, with the Opposition divided over the human rights violation that turning a civil offence, that’s instant triple talaq is now after the SC judgment, into a criminal offence.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

This Bill is pending since last year when it was introduced during the Monsoon session, on July 19, 2016. The Bill seeks to give illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan belonging to Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Buddhist, Parsi and Christian religious categories the eligibility to apply for citizenship in India. The Bill seeks to amend the existing Citizenship Act of 1955, and also shorten the time required for a foreigner of the above religious categories to stay in India in order to apply for citizenship from 11 to six years.

The Bill has been criticised for excluding Muslims from the categories of acceptable religious denominations, and its possible impact would be directly felt by the persecuted Muslims living or given shelter in the neighbouring countries, such as the Rohingyas of Myanmar, the Ahmadiyas of Pakistan, among others. In addition, the Bill and its ideological underpinnings have been criticised for targeting Bengali Muslims in Assam and West Bengal, attempting to label them as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, thereby violating Article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees Right to Equality.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016

After the landmark judgment by the Supreme Court in 2014, the government has come up with a draft legislation gives the transgender (TG) person recognition and rights as neither male nor female but belonging to the third gender. This includes “trans-men, trans-women, persons with intersex variations, gender-queers”. The Bill prohibits discrimination against a TG person in sectors like education, healthcare, jobs and access to facilities and public spaces, and also criminalise sexual abuse or harassment of TG persons.

However, the TG Bill has come to face a lot of heat from activists and commentators alike for its tendency to police and impose TG identity as a leish on persons. In addition, the Bill does not provide for the enforcement of the right to self-perceived gender identity that was recognised by the Supreme Court. The Bill uses terms that are not/cannot be rigidly defined and go against the SC directed recognition of “self-perceived gender identity”.  On December 14, a huge protest rally was organsied in different parts of the country against the “invasive and discriminatory” TG Bill.

The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2017

The Bill seeks to give proxy voting rights to Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), which would allow the strong Indian diaspora to participate in the democratic elections of the country. While the Indian citizens residing abroad will given e-ballots and postal ballots to register their vote, it seeks to replace the word “wife” with “spouse” to indicate a gender neutral take on the process of proxy voting.

One of the key criticisms of the Bill is the hyperactive "Hindutva diaspora" that exerts a strong force on the political climate of the country. Many of PM Narendra Modi’s overseas supporters are also volunteers of the BJP and the RSS’ arms abroad, and have a significant footprint when it comes to organisational work and funds gathering. Many fear that the Bill might tilt the election squarely in favour of the ruling BJP, while not ruling out the possibility of misuse while using e-ballots.

Ordinances to Bills

In addition, three ordinances are set to be replaced by Bills in the Winter Session. These include the Goods and Services Tax (Compensation to States) Ordinance, 2017 – promulgated on September 2, 2017; the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2017; and the Indian Forest (Amendment) Ordinance, 2017.

The last one is extremely important since it tweaks the definition of “tree” to exclude bamboo from the list of plants classified as tress, including palms, stumps, brush-wood, canes, etc, thereby eliminating the need to seek permission for their felling and transportation for economic use. This ordinance has been much criticised by environmentalists and is likely to see hot debates in Parliament.

Also read: BJP willing to sacrifice Parliament for Gujarat polls betrays Modi's misplaced priorities

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