Bills of passage

The winter session of Parliament begins on Tuesday, a day after US President Barack Obama addresses MPs. Several important bills could be taken up for discussion. The government’s lack of majority in Rajya Sabha implies that we could see a greater degree of debate and compromise before some bills are passed.

The Seeds Bill makes a good case study of how Parliament should work. It was introduced in 2005, and the Standing Committee on Agriculture heard many stakeholders. Its report recommended several changes, following which the ministry circulated an amendment list. There were further negotiations with MPs across political parties.

The cabinet has approved some more amendments, and the bill may come up for consideration this session.

The HRD ministry had introduced four bills to change the regulatory structure for higher education. One of these, the Educational Tribunals Bill, was passed by Lok Sabha and deferred by Rajya Sabha after discussion, with the decision to vote on it in the winter session. This legislation establishes tribunals at state and Central levels to settle disputes regarding admissions of students, service matters of staff and faculty, and affiliation of colleges to universities. Three other bills — to prevent unfair practices including capitation fees, to set up accreditation agencies that will give quality rations to colleges and universities, and to regulate foreign universities — are being examined by the standing committee. The National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill, which replaces the UGC and AICTE with a new regulator, is listed for introduction this session.

The standing committee has submitted its report on the Companies Bill. This bill makes significant changes in the way companies are regulated. On a number of issues, it transfers oversight from the government to shareholders, defines new types of companies, prescribes norms for independent directors and auditors, and increases the powers of creditors in case of debt restructuring. The bill is listed for consideration and passing this session.

The Enemy Property Bill was introduced last session to replace an ordinance. However, it was not passed as the government’s proposed amendments were opposed by the BJP. The cabinet has approved a fresh bill, which incorporates the contentious amendments; it will be interesting to see whether the BJP supports this version.

The Women’s Reservation Bill was passed in Rajya Sabha in April but it has not been taken up by Lok Sabha yet. Given that the BJP and the Left parties support it, garnering a two-third majority will not be a difficult task; however, many MPs reportedly oppose the bill, and it is to be seen whether the government brings forth this bill for consideration.

Some contentious bills are listed for introduction almost every session, and have been included yet again: the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill and the Forward Contracts Bill.

Another important bill — to establish the Unique Identification Authority — could be introduced. While this concept has been hailed as a tool to better target development projects, some activists have raised privacy related issues. The government has also listed the Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Bill, to replace the current act. This bill gives statutory backing to the new mining policy, and would have wide ramifications, especially in the Naxal-affected areas. The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill is also listed for introduction, bringing in force the guidelines of the 1997 Vishakha judgment. The Biotech Regulatory Authority Bill, which would regulate genetically modified organisms, may also be introduced.

This session could see a historic event: the impeachment motion against Justice Sen of the Calcutta high court. The first few steps of the process have been completed: a motion moved by 50 Rajya Sabha MPs, constitution of an inquiry committee by the chairman of that House, and the recommendation by the committee that the removal motion be taken up. For removal, each House of Parliament has to vote with a two-third majority, within the same session, followed by the assent of the president. Currently, another inquiry committee is looking into the charges made against Justice Dinakaran. Coincidentally, a bill that regulates the conduct of judges — the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill — has been listed for introduction and passing during the session.

The last session of Parliament saw some interesting developments. On several instances, Parliament insisted that bills be examined by committees, and not be passed in a hurry. We hope that this trend, of Parliament taking an informed view on legislative proposals, continues this session.