From Anti-Terror Law To RTI Act, The Controversial Bills Passed In Lok Sabha This Budget Session
In recent times, the ruling BJP government has brought about several bills. A few of them have created much furore. These bills are seen as an attempt to infringe upon citizens’ rights.
RTI (Amendment) Bill, 2019
The Rajya Sabha on July 25 passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019. This bill seeks to amend the RTI Act, 2005. It was passed in the upper house by a voice vote amid a walkout from the Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the other opposition parties.
The Opposition motion was defeated 75 to 117 in favour of the government. This is a rare occasion in the Rajya Sabha that an Opposition motion was defeated.
The amendment brings in two major changes. As of now, the tenure of the CIC and ICs is fixed for five years. However, the amendment proposes to change the fixed nature of the tenure to “for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”. The same rule is to be extended to State Information Commissioners.
The second major change pertains to salary and the allowances of CIC and ICs. These salaries, until now were at par with that of Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners respectively, as per provisions of the Constitution.
The status and privileges bestowed upon CIC and ICs at par with the corresponding posts in Election Commission were given under the RTI Act to maintain the autonomy of the institution.
However, the amendment now says, “The mandate of Election Commission of India and Central and State Information Commissions are different. Hence, their status and service conditions need to be rationalised accordingly.”
The amendments in the RTI act has met with strong opposition from several activists, who argue that it is an attempt to dilute the powers of the RTI Commission and that of snatching away its autonomy.
Triple Talaq Bill
On July 30, the Rajya Sabha passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019. This bill seeks to ban the practice of instant triple talaq. This bill recognises the declaration of triple talaq a cognizable offence, which may attract three years imprisonment with a fine. It means that the police can arrest an accused without a warrant.
Opposition leaders, particularly from the Congress, Samajwadi Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) say that the bill is ‘partisan, unconstitutional and arbitrary’. Leader of Opposition, Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “This Bill is called The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill. It is a misnomer. In my view, the real intention is the destruction of Muslim families.
He further added, “If Muslims are killed by mob lynching, there are law and order implications. But here you are trying to burn Muslim households with the lamp of their own house… so nobody will have any problem.”
UAPA Amendment Bill, 2019
On July 23, the Lok Sabha passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill 2019. This move is expected to give a big boost to India’s internal security machinery.
The bill proposes various amendments to the existing Act. As per the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, the government could notify organisations as a terrorist organisation by including them in the First Schedule. The amendment seeks to empower the government to designate individuals as terrorists. This would be added as the ‘Fourth Schedule’ to the Act, which will include names of individuals designated as terrorists.
Leaders of oppositions and critics argue that this amendment opens up a large scope of misuse. It is being argued that while Section 15 of the UAPA lays down offences to be recognised as ‘terrorist act’, the term ‘terrorism’ has not been defined specifically. This may result in giving investigation agencies wide discretion in deciding what can be a terrorist offence.
Additionally, there is no specific procedure outlined about what would happen after an individual is termed as ‘terrorist’.
Speaking during the Lok Sabha discussions over the amendment, Home Minister Amit Shah said, “And then there are those who attempt to plant terrorist literature and terrorist theory in the minds of the young. Guns do not give rise to terrorists. The root of terrorism is the propaganda that is done to spread it, the frenzy that is spread.”
This statement has further intensified doubts that it would be easy for the government to target human rights activists and social workers.
Amendments to Labour Laws
Two labour codes have been introduced in Lok Sabha-Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code of 2019 and the Wages Code Bill.
The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions code seeks to combine 13 laws relating to factories, mines, dock worker, building and other construction workers, construction workers, plantation labour, sales promotion employees, beedi and cigar worker, journalists and cine workers among others.
In other words, there will now be one registration for all establishments with 10 or more workers and a common National Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Board to recommend policy matters on issues arising from the code.
The reason for this is to simplify and rationalise the provisions of these laws as per the recommendation of the Second National Commission on Labour (2002). The government says that with single code in place, a broad legislative framework is to be brought to ensure safety and better working conditions while providing flexibility for making rules as per emerging technologies.
The contention against the new codes is that it tends to oversimplify and dilute the safety provisions. A joint statement released by various trade unions like BMS, CITU, INTUC, AITUC expresses their displeasure, saying that the new codes help the employers but tamper with rights and protection of workers.
Apart from Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions code, the Lok Sabha on July 30, passed the Wages Code Bill. This bill subsumed four labour laws, that are- Minimum Wages Act, Payment of Wages Act, Payment of Bonus Act and the Equal Remuneration Act.
This code will now introduce a minimum wage for workers. This minimum wage will be fixed by a tripartite committee which will comprise of representatives from the trade unions, employers and state governments.
National Medical Commission Bill, 2019
On July 29, the Lok Sabha passed the contentious National Medical Commission Bill, 2019, calling it one of the most significant reforms that will end ‘inspector raj’ in the medical education sector.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has claimed that replacing the MCI with another body will give birth to new forms of corruption.
The IMA also claimed that Section 32 of the NMC Bill provides for licensing of 3.5 lakhs unqualified non-medical persons to practice modern medicine.