Nuclear Liability, Women’s Reservation Star in LS Session

The government has announced its legislative agenda for Parliament’s monsoon session that starts from Monday July 26.  It plans to pass 33 Bills and to introduce 26 bills. We describe some of these bills here.

The bills listed for consideration and passing include the seeds bill, the nuclear liability bill, the women’s reservation bill, the prevention of torture bill, two bills to change the names of Orissa to Odisha and Oriya to Odiya, and four bills that replace ordinances.

The seeds bill requires all seeds and seed manufacturers and dealers to be registered.  It provides for quality standards, certification, and compensation to farmers if seeds do not meet the promised performance levels.  Many of the issues raised by the parliamentary committee that scrutinised the bill have been addressed by the government.  This includes the exemption for inter-farmer sale of seed and a separate compensation mechanism.

The nuclear liability bill provides for a system of compensation to victims in case of radiation from a nuclear power plant.  It places the onus of compensation on the operator of the plant, who may take recourse to the supplier if he has a written agreement to that effect.  The bill caps the total liability from any incident at 300 million Special Drawing Rights (about Rs 2100 crore).  The maximum liability of the Operator is Rs 500 crore, with the central government liable for any amount above that (up to SDR 300 million).  This bill is being examined by a parliamentary committee and will be debated only after the committee submits its report.

The women’s reservation bill reserves for women one-third of seats in Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.  The bill was passed in Rajya Sabha, and is now pending in Lok Sabha.  Though the government can muster enough votes to pass the bill – with the support of the BJP, Left parties and some others  – some of its allies and supporters oppose the bill.  Whether the government will take on the opponents of this bill is open question.

The prevention of torture bill was passed by Lok Sabha and is pending in Rajya Sabha.  It provides for punishment of a public servant who causes grievous hurt or danger to life in order to obtain information.  The complaint has to be made within six months of the offence, and prosecution requires prior sanction of the government.

Four ordinances were promulgated.  One 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 sets up a joint mechanism for resolving issues between financial sector regulators.  The third provides that enemy property would remain in the custody of the custodian even if the legal heir is an Indian citizen.  The fourth amends the Jharkhand Panchayati Raj Act.

Several important bills may be introduced during the session.  The biotechnology bill sets up a regulator for the sector, who would also regulate genetically modified organisms.  The direct tax code will replace the income tax and wealth tax acts.  The judicial standards and accountability bill establishes a code of conduct for judges and a process to impose penalties, including impeachment.  The forward contracts bill permits commodity options, and establishes an independent regulator for commodity markets.

The last session saw significant amount of time lost due to disruptive behaviour.  Parliament is the forum for MPs to hold the government to account through questions and debates.  It is also the body to make national laws.  We hope that MPs from both treasury and opposition benches use this session as an opportunity to fulfil their legislative responsibilities.