Winter Session of Parliament ends: MPs remain undecided over triple talaq bill; Rajya Sabha's productivity dips to 54%
The Winter Session of Parliament, which began on 15 December, 2017 amid much uproar over its delay, is set to end on Friday.
The Winter Session of Parliament, which began on 15 December, 2017 amid much uproar over its delay, is set to conclude on Friday.
During this period, 24 legislative bills, including the contentious triple talaq bill, were introduced and/or passed by one or both the Houses. Out of these 24 bills, only three — Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2017, National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second (Amendment) Bill, 2017 and Indian Forest (Amendment) Bill, 2017 — were introduced and passed by both, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, during the 14-day session.
The Lok Sabha passed 14 bills during the Winter Session, while the Rajya Sabha has passed only nine into law so far.
However, before we move on to the important bills passed and issues discussed, let's take a quick look at how productive was this Winter Session?
According to data collated by Delhi-based think-tank PRS Legislative, the Rajya Sabha had recorded a productivity of 72 percent in the Monsoon Session which concluded in August. In the Winter Session, the Upper House's productivity has dipped to 54 percent.
Let's take a look at some of the most important bills which were debated and issues discussed:
Triple Talaq Bill
Winter Session concludes on Friday but the fate of the controversial bill remains clouded in suspense as the government virtually rejected an overwhelming demand from the Opposition for referring it to a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha for detailed consideration on Thursday. The Centre was quite sure that the bill will be passed this Session, but by the look of it, the bill which criminalises triple talaq might get deferred to the Budget Session.
The Opposition also refused to relent as Leader of Opposition and Congress MP Ghulam Nabi Azad said that the Bill was not fit to be passed as it as it would "finish off Muslim women" instead of "empowering them."
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 was introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha by the Minister of Law and Justice, Ravi Shankar Prasad on 28 December 28, 2017. However, when it was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, it did not see much debate or discussion as political parties indulged in a slugfest both inside and outside Parliament.
On Thursday, the government tactically placed the bill in the bottom of priority in the list of business, which the Opposition strongly objected to and demanded that its motions for referring the bill to a Select Committee be taken up first. The business list had the Goods and Services Tax (Compensation to States) Amendment Bill ahead of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017. Even on Friday, the GST bill took precedence over the triple talaq bill in the list of business to be taken up by Rajya Sabha.
The bill makes all declaration of talaq, including in written or electronic form, to be "void and illegal". It defines talaq as talaq-e-biddat or any other similar form of talaq pronounced by a Muslim man resulting in instant and irrevocable divorce. Talaq-e-biddat refers to the practice under Muslim personal laws where pronouncement of the word ‘talaq’ thrice in one sitting by a Muslim man to his wife results in an instant and irrevocable divorce. The bill recognises it as a cognisable and non-bailable offence.
While the government wanted a debate on the triple talaq bill in the Rajya Sabha, the Opposition wanted it to be sent to a Select Committee for scrutiny before it is a made a law.
Following this, in an unprecedented move, it was the ruling BJP that forced an adjournment in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday as the Opposition pressed for the triple talaq Bill to be sent to a Select Committee of the House for closer scrutiny.
However, various reports suggest that owing to the lack of numbers and consensus in the Rajya Sabha the ruling party will be forced to send the bill to a Select Committee of the House. And it would only be taken up again in the Budget Session in 2018.
National Medical Commission Bill
The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 29 December, 2017 by Minister for Health and Family Welfare, JP Nadda. The bill, which seeks to replace the Medical Council of India (MCI) was met with criticism and uproar, spurring a 12-hour shutdown of all private hospitals in the country on Tuesday to protest the "anti-people and anti-patient" NMC Bill by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) on Tuesday.
However, the bill was sent back to a standing committee of Parliament on Tuesday after request from several opposition parties, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar informed the Lok Sabha. He also urged the Speaker to instruct the committee to give its report before the Budget Session of Parliament.
"All opposition parties have urged that the National Medical Commission Bill should be sent to a standing committee. On behalf of the government I will say we are ready to send it to a standing committee. But I have one request, there is a Supreme Court order, and the Standing Committee on Health also recommended that a Bill should be brought soon," the Minister said.
"To clean the medical education system, this Bill is needed. Tell the standing committee to give its recommendations before the Budget Session, so that we can pass it in the Budget Session," he said.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA), which has 2.77 lakh members, which includes Corporate Hospitals, Poly clinics and Nursing homes, across the country, had called for a 12-hour shutdown. The strike was called off after the government agreed to send the bill to a Parliamentary panel.
Repealing and Amending Bill
On Tuesday, the Lok Sabha passed two bills to repeal 245 obsolete and archaic laws, including the 158-year-old Calcutta Pilots Act of 1859 and the 1911 Prevention of Seditious Meeting Act. Both the bills were then passed by the Upper House on 28 December, 2017.
Some of the old acts that have been repealed are the Hackney Carriage Act 1879 which was legislated for the regulation and control of hackney-carriages, Dramatic Performance Act 1876 when the theatre was being used a medium of protest against the British rule.
Another such old act which was repealed by the Lok Sabha was 'The Ganges Tolls Act, 1867' which provided for collecting toll "not exceeding 12 annas" on certain boats and steamers plying on the Ganga to improve navigation of the river between Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) and Dinapore (Bihar).
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the old and many irrelevant pre-independence laws were the "unfortunate part of the colonial legacy" and repealing them was a progressive move that reflects the "pro-reform" approach of the government. Prasad said 1029 old laws were first repealed by Parliament in 1950 and the last time such old laws were abolished during the Atal Behari Vajpayee government that repealed old laws in 2004.
Opposition members in the Lok Sabha on Thursday alleged a conspiracy to drive out Bengali-speaking population from Assam, a charge rejected as "baseless" by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
Trinamool Congress member Saugata Roy raised the issue as soon as the Zero Hour began, pointing out that names of 1.3 crore people out of 3.29 crore population of Assam had not appeared in the first draft of National Register of Citizens, which aims at identifying illegal immigrants.
"We fear this is a conspiracy to drive out Bengali-speaking people from Assam," Roy said, drawing vociferous support from his party MPs and some members of the Congress and the Left parties.
Responding to the claim, the home minister said the NCR work was going on under the supervision of the Supreme Court and there was no need for anyone to feel concerned. "Those whose names have been left out can approach a tribunal. It is a baseless allegation that some people are being driven out," Rajnath Singh said.
The Parliament saw a stormy session on Wednesday with the Rajya Sabha being adjourned four times amidst uproar on Maharashtra bandh and triple talaq bill.
As soon as the Upper House convened at 2 pm on Wednesday after two adjournments earlier, BSP MP Satish Chandra Mishra stood up and demanded a discussion on the bandh, saying "peaceful people" were targeted in Maharashtra and accusing the state government of hatching a conspiracy.
As the Congress and the BJP clashed in the Lok Sabha, Congress leaders blamed the state's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the unrest while the BJP accused the Congress of politicising the issue and "dividing the masses".
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said atrocities against Dalits were on the rise and blamed "some fascist powers" for it.
On Thursday, leaders in the Rajya Sabha condemned the violence. Congress MP Rajni Patil gave notice in the Rajya Sabha under rule 267 over Bhima-Koregaon incident. "Maharashtra is known as a peaceful state. Why didn't the Maharashtra government respond to the incident at the right time?" Patil asked. Several leaders including DMK's Kanimozhi and NCP supremo Sharad Pawar demanded a judicial inquiry into the matter.
With inputs from agencies
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