Keeping up the acts

The monsoon session of Parliament will be held from July 26 to August 27. The UPA government has not been able to meet its legislative targets in the last couple of sessions. The government had planned to pass 27 bills and introduce 64 bills in the budget session; it managed only to pass six and to introduce 28 bills.

A few bills had been identified as priority items in the President’s Addresses to Parliament in 2009 and 2010. The land acquisition amendment and the rehabilitation bills appear to have fallen prey to coalition compulsions, at least till the Bengal elections. The newly constituted National Advisory Council has made some recommendations on the food security bill and the communal violence bill. These bills will likely be re-drafted, and thus, are unlikely to be introduced this session.

A few months after the UPA government was formed, the law minister stated his intention to introduce the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill. During the last year, issues related to the appointment and conduct of judges have cropped up. Controversies include those regarding disclosure of assets, impeachment motions against two high court judges, and the corruption charge in the Punjab and Haryana high court. Indeed, some press reports indicate that the inquiry committee looking into the case of Justice Sen of the Calcutta high court may be close to finalising its report. If this committee submits the report soon and finds cause for removal of the judge, we may witness the rare case of the removal motion being debated in Parliament.

The education minister had introduced four bills related to university education, which addressed the entry of foreign universities, prohibition of capitation fees, establishment of education tribunals and setting up a system of agencies that would provide quality ratings to all courses and institutions. These bills are being examined by the standing committee. Other possible bills include those recognising new IITs, IISERs, and recasting the Distance Education Council. The ministry has also planned a new law that combines into a new regulator the regulatory powers of bodies such as UGC, AICTE, and the Bar Council.

The trajectory of the Women’s Reservation Bill is difficult to guess. The nuclear liability bill is being examined by the standing committee, which is scheduled to submit its report on the second day of the session. If the committee submits the report in time — reports indicate otherwise — the bill may be taken up for discussion. It would be interesting to see the committee’s recommendations on the contentious issues.

In the last session, the government had planned to introduce the Biotechnology Regulator Bill. Given the fracas over permitting Bt brinjal, it is important to institutionalise mechanisms for permitting and regulating biotechnology including genetically modified organisms.

Three ordinances have been issued since the last session, and these need to be ratified. The first ordinance replaces the Medical Council of India with a board of directors for one year. This step followed the arrest of the MCI president on corruption charges. The second ordinance followed the row between SEBI and IRDA over the regulation of unit linked insurance products. A new mechanism has been set up to resolve inter-regulator issues. The third ordinance declares that any enemy property will remain with the custodian even if the status of the original owner changes or the legal heir is an Indian citizen.

Every Parliament session is an opportunity for the government to further its legislative agenda. The UPA has not fully utilised earlier sessions. We hope this session is used fruitfully by both treasury and opposition members to fulfil their parliamentary responsibilities.