Data Bill: Rajya Sabha picks 10 members for joint panel

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Indian Express, December 13, 2019

A resolution to refer the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, to a Joint Select Committee was passed by voice vote in Rajya Sabha on Thursday, a day after it was approved by the Lok Sabha.

The decision to sidestep the IT Parliamentary Standing Committee and send the Bill to a JSC had triggered significant backlash from Opposition members on Wednesday.

The Standing Committee, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, was scheduled to hear from key witnesses on the WhatsApp-Pegasus breach on Wednesday but the meeting was postponed to Friday. According to Tharoor, the Speaker had asked him to do so considering a whip issued by the BJP to Rajya Sabha MPs. However, the Lok Sabha decided to send the Bill to a JSC on Wednesday.

The first meeting of the Standing Committee in November had seen a political stalemate with BJP members objecting to the committee having jurisdiction over the topic, citing parliamentary procedure rules. It is learnt that 12 non-BJP members, including from BJP-allied parties, voted to discuss the matter, while 12 BJP members voted against it. The committee’s chairman, Tharoor, broke the tie with his second vote in favour of discussion. All BJP members of the committee had argued against discussing data security and the WhatsApp-Pegasus breach.

The JSC, headed by a senior BJP member, will now examine the Bill further.

The panel will have 20 members from Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha. The 10 members were nominated on Thursday.

Introducing the motion in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, Union Electronics & Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said he intends to table the Bill in the Budget session in January. “We have come with a very robust mechanism that if the data of the data principal is taken without consent, then serious penalties will occur. And, if it is used beyond the permissible limits of consent, then severe penalties. India wants to become a big centre of data processing, anonymised data processing, and also to promote the cause of the digital economy. But we are equally keen that, this being a very seminal bill, it needs to be further examined.”

The minister said the Justice B N Srikrishna committee that drafted the Bill received 8,000 comments from 134 entities, besides feedback from 500 representatives of companies and civil society and 600 organisations from across the world.

In a letter on Wednesday, Tharoor had urged the Lok Sabha Speaker to “caution this government against such wilful exercise of undermining the House”. “In brazen disregard for the Committee, and by extension, the parliamentary convention relating to Standing Committees, this government has chosen to establish Joint Select Committee, presumably in order to extend its control by a Chairman from the ruling party.”

Incidentally, the IT Parliamentary Committee’s meeting scheduled for Wednesday was postponed to Friday. According to Tharoor, the Speaker had asked him to do so considering a whip issued by the BJP to Rajya Sabha MPs. Two other people who were scheduled to speak in front of the Committee also said that they received a call from the Cabinet Secretariat’s office saying that the Speaker had directed that the meeting should be cancelled.

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