As Parliament observes shutdown over Covid-19, key legislation may face delay

Hindustan Times, March  27, 2020

The passage of some key bills is likely to take a longer time than expected amid the extraordinary measures, including a three-week national lockdown, put in place to ensure social distancing to check the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

As many as 47 bills are currently pending before Parliament, which was adjourned on Monday because of the Covid-19 outbreak, days before its budget session was to end on April 3.

Most of these bills are pending before Parliamentary standing committees, which are likely to now take longer to meet, review them, consult stakeholders and present their reports amid a suspension of air, rail and road travel.

The bills include those related to the protection of data of individuals, regulation of commercial surrogacy and penalising people if they do not take proper care of their parents.

Generally, parliamentary committees utilise the time between sessions to prepare their reports related to the bills.

The government has no obligation to abide by the changes proposed by any parliamentary panel but it cannot pass a bill as long as a panel is reviewing it.

Jairam Ramesh, chairman of the standing committee on environment, has written a letter to Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu seeking more time to review the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill.

Ramesh has pointed out that earlier the panel got an extended time till April 2 to give its report on the bill and it could have been passed if the budget session had not been cut short.

He added it is impossible to meet the deadline and sought time till the first week of the monsoon session of Parliament that is scheduled to begin in July. HT has seen a copy of the letter.

Biju Janata Dal lawmaker Bhartruhari Mahtab, who heads the standing committee on labour, has also sought more time to finish his reports on labour reforms.

The draft report on the Industrial Relations Code was supposed to have been adopted on Tuesday and submitted to Parliament on Wednesday.

“The rules say that a report has to be circulated among all its members and then adopted in a meeting. I could not even circulate the draft of the report on the Industrial Relations Code,” Mahtab said.

“I sought more time from the Speaker on Monday hours before the House was adjourned.”

Afzal Amanullah, former parliamentary secretary, said, these are not ordinary days and like many things in the country, the parliamentary scrutiny process of major bills faces delay. “But the government rushes through the bills when things get normal and Parliament holds its next session. The government must allow the due process to follow.”

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