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6 Controversial Bills Up for Discussion in the Monsoon Session

From triple talaq to RTI and transgender rights to DNA profiling, the Modi Govt is pushing some controversial laws

Updated
Politics
7 min read
6 Controversial Bills Up for Discussion in the Monsoon Session
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The Monsoon Session of Parliament is all set to begin on 18 July and will run till 10 August. After the fiasco of the Budget Session earlier this year, the Modi Government is keen on pushing through a number of legislations to score political points and start gathering a head of steam in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.

The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have released bulletins listing which ‘Bills’ are to be considered during the session, covering a wide range of controversial topics, from criminalising triple talaq to the unannounced amendments to the RTI Act.

Here are some of the issues which should prove to be hotly contested and could have significant legal consequences:

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Triple Talaq

Proposed Legislation

What does the Government want to do?

The Bill makes any declaration of talaq-e-biddat (or any other instant form of talaq) void and illegal. Doing so will also be a cognisable and non-bailable offence, punishable with up to three years’ imprisonment. The woman will be entitled to get maintenance from her husband for herself and her children, and get custody of the children.

Why is this controversial?

The criminalisation of triple talaq has also been criticised by social activists, women’s groups and Muslim groups since it means imprisonment of the husband. This runs counter to the practical reasoning behind making triple talaq illegal - to prevent separation of families and ensuring that the wife and children are not left destitute.

Status

The ‘Triple Talaq Bill’ was passed in the Lok Sabha, but Opposition members in the Rajya Sabha demanded that it needed to be referred to a Select Committee. The Upper House will take the issue up again in the Monsoon Session.

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Transgender Rights

Proposed Legislation

What does the Government want to do?

The Bill defines transgender persons, and prohibits discrimination against them in relation to education, employment, healthcare, public goods and services, right of movement, and occupation of property. The Bill also directs the Central and State Governments to provide welfare schemes in these areas. It is also a criminal offence to (a) force transgenders to beg; (b) deny them access to public places; (c) force them out of their residence; or (d) harm or endanger their life, safety or well-being.

Why is this controversial?

The Supreme Court’s NALSA judgment in 2014, which set the ball rolling on transgender rights in India, specifically recognises their right to self-identify. The Government’s Bill claims that it recognises the right to self-identify, but requires a certificate of identity as transgender to be obtained from the District Magistrate after assessment by a Screening Committee – which has been strongly criticised by rights activists and the transgender community.

The definition of transgender in the Bill has also been criticised, including by a Parliamentary Standing Committee, for being too rigid, going against global norms and violating the right to self-identification.

It also fails to provide for any reservations in education or offices, and provides no grievance redressal mechanism. In this, it compares unfavourably to Tiruchi Siva’s 2014 private member’s bill which had been passed in the Rajya Sabha.

Status

The Lok Sabha will be considering the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s recommendations to amend the Government’s Bill, and whether to pass it or not.

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Revamp of OBC Commission

What does the Government want to do?

The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) is currently a statutory body, which recommends which communities should be included in the Centre’s list of Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The Government wants to change this into a constitutional body like the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), allowing the NCBC to hear grievances of OBCs (which are currently heard by the NCSC). This requires an amendment to the Constitution.

Why is this controversial?

Firstly, there is a dispute between the Government and Opposition on the composition of the NCBC. The Government version of the amendment, passed in the Lok Sabha, had a three-member commission. The Opposition insisted in the Rajya Sabha that it needs to have two additional members – one woman, and one from a minority community.

Secondly, the Government amendment also tries to change the way in which States decide which communities should be considered as OBCs (relevant for State-level reservations). Currently, States decide for themselves, but if the amendment goes through as it stands, the Centre will make the decision in consultation with the States.

Status

Because of the special procedure for passing constitutional amendments, the Bill is back in the Lok Sabha to debate the Rajya Sabha’s amendments. Both Houses have to agree on a draft, pass it by special majority, and get the State legislative assemblies to then agree to it.

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Amendments to RTI Act

Proposed Legislation

The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill 2018

What does the government want to do?

The Centre wants to amend the RTI Act so that they get to decide the tenure and salaries of the Information Commissioners of the Central Information Commission and the State Information Commissions through rules. Currently, the tenure of the Commissioners is fixed at 5 years (with a retirement age of 65) and the salary is at the same level as that of equivalent Election Commissioners. The Statement of Objects and Reasons provided by the government claims that Information Commissioners should not have the same status as Election Commissioners, since the Election Commission is a constitutional body, while the Information Commissions are statutory bodies.

Why is this controversial?

The Bill has only been made public one day before the Monsoon Session begins, and the Government had refused to divulge any details or drafts in advance, meaning there has been minimal opportunity for meaningful debate, public engagement or expert analysis. This had already led to concerns among RTI activists, given the Modi Government had previously sought to amend the RTI framework in ways that made it tougher for common people to obtain information, and even exposed them to threats to their lives.

The National Campaign for People’s’ Right to Information (NCPRI) believes that the proposed amendments will “fundamentally weaken the institution of the information commissions as it will adversely impact their ability to function in an independent manner.” Information Commissioners are the people who make a final determination on whether or not to provide access to information – as the Standing Committee which assessed the RTI Act when it was being drafted noted, it was essential that it be able to function with “utmost independence and autonomy”.

The elevated status of Information Commissioners – be it in terms of their fixed tenure or their high salary – was meant to be help ensure this. If their tenure can be cut short by the Centre and their salaries can be slashed, this leaves them in positions where they are dependent on the government, making them (more?) susceptible to political influence. Which would defeat the entire purpose of the RTI Act – transparency.

Status

The Bill is yet to be introduced.

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DNA Profiling

What does the Government want to do?

The Bill seeks to regulate the use of DNA technology for establishing identity of victims, offenders, suspects, undertrials, missing persons and unknown deceased persons.

There will be a DNA Regulatory Board which will certify which labs are authorised to carry out DNA testing, and establish DNA databanks. The Bill also propose the establishment of national and regional DNA Databanks which will maintain indices for crime scenes, suspects, undertrials, offenders and missing persons.

Why is this controversial?

This is the third iteration of the Bill, and follows recommendations from the Law Commission to amend previous proposals which had come in for severe criticism. Serious privacy concerns over the legislation remain, as does the risk of profiling without sufficient safeguards. The maintenance of an index for suspects is concerning because this could lead to violations of the right to life and liberty, and it is also worrying that the framework allows for “voluntarily” submitting one’s DNA, which raises the spectre of another Aadhaar.

Status

The Bill is yet to be introduced.

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National Medical Commission

Proposed Legislation

What does the Government want to do?

Under this Bill, the Government would scrap the existing Medical Council of India (run by doctors) and replace it with government-run National Medical Commission (NMC) to regulate medical education and practice.

Key regulations include (1) determining fees for up to 40% of seats in private medical colleges and deemed universities; (2) a National Licentiate Examination for doctors after their MBBS to obtain a licence to practice.

Why is this controversial?

The Cabinet had to remove provisions for a bridge course to allow AYUSH doctors to prescribe allopathic medicines after severe criticism. Doctors were strongly against the idea, since it it would require a lot of training and could be a severe risk. Several State Governments expressed opposition to the idea when approached by the Parliamentary Standing Committee which was looking into this Bill, leading to the Cabinet’s decision. However, the official draft with this modification has not yet been released.

A number of medical associations including the World Medical Association and the Indian Medical Association have also criticised the move away from self-governance, which they fear could open the door for political and corporate interests to influence regulation.

Status

The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2017, and the Parliamentary Standing Committee submitted its report in March 2018. The Lower House is scheduled to review the report and debate the Bill during the Monsoon Session.

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Topics:  Parliament   AYUSH Doctors   DNA 

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