The ongoing monsoon session of the Parliament has been in the headlines since it started. Several bills were passed, of which few were really contentious and were highlighted by experts and critics across the country. Several speeches, walk out, and protests were made by the opposition in the Parliament while the civil society stormed social media channels, wrote op-eds, and carried out public meetings in order to ensure at least a proper discussion on these proposed pieces of law.
In this article, we summarily look at the contentious laws that were passed by the Parliament during the session and what makes them controversial.
Delhi Services Bill, 2023
Also known as the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2023 was passed in both houses of the Parliament. This bill brings bureaucrats in Delhi under the direct control of the central government.
Delhi Services Bill goes against the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Government of NCT of Delhi v. Union of India case which gave more powers to the Delhi government over services in Delhi.
This law has been a major piece of contention between the Delhi government led by AAP and the central government. Before this, the matter has come up before the Supreme Court thrice. In 2018 and 2023, the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court, while upholding the constitutional principles of federalism and democratic government, decided in favor of the Delhi Government.
Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023
After years of efforts, this is India’s first law on data privacy. However, critics have pointed out many loopholes in it.
On five specific grounds like national security, criminal investigation etc., the bill completely exempts the government and its authorities from the purview of this law. Meaning, such agencies cannot be held accountable or liable under the law. This is a grave concern given the rise in data breach cases that have taken place recently like the COVID-19 data breach, AIIMS data breach, SBI employees data breach, and more.
The bill also provides for blocking of a platform that has been penalized before on more than two instances, adding to the already existing regime of online censorship, which is administered separately through the Information Technology Act.
With control over the appointment of members of the Data Protection Board, the government is also accused of exercising too much influence over the board and reducing its independent operation which is a non-negotiable aspect as per the famous 2019 privacy judgment by the Supreme Court.
Further, the bill also interferes with the Right To Information Act, making access to personal data difficult. It seeks to amend section 8(1)(j) and put a blanket ban on the divulgence of any kind of personal information, regardless of the potential public interest involved. The critics point out that it will now be easier for the government to not share any kind of specific information, especially information, and details pertaining to individuals.
The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023
This bill has faced a lot of resistance from civil society and political opposition. It seeks to amend the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 by changing the very definition of forest. According to the bill, any land notified as a forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 or in government records, after the 1980 Act came into effect, will be treated as “forest” under the new law.
The issue this redefining of forests creates is that it restricts the overall scope of the law. The present law applied to “any forest land” – which was also reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in its landmark Godavarman Thirumulpad case in 1996. The Godavaram judgment clearly stated that forest includes all land recorded as such in government records, regardless of ownership, as well as “deemed forests”, which are not officially classified as ‘forests’, but satisfy the dictionary meaning of the word.
However, the new definition practically opens up all the forests that are not officially recognized as ‘forests’ for industrial exploitation. According to an analysis by IndiaSpend, India is set to lose close to 28% of forest cover due to this new interpretation of forest under the law.
Further, the act also exempts those infrastructure projects from taking forest clearance permissions that are located within 100 km of the national border. This provision is of huge concern because, by definition, it would apply automatically to the entire region, especially states in Northeastern India or Uttarakhand.
The bill also provides for a blanket exemption for projects like zoos, eco-tourism facilities, and reconnaissance surveys that may adversely affect forest land and wildlife.
Critics are also of the view that bill is going to have a huge implication on the rights of the tribals and their welfare.
The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2021
The proposed law was introduced for promoting the AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) industry and ensuring ease of doing business for companies engaged in the extraction of biological resources for commercial purposes. On the contrary, as the name suggests, the law is drafted with the objective of protecting biological resources, preventing their unchecked exploitation, and ensuring the welfare of communities that are dependent on such resources (like tribals).
The lawmakers also decriminalize all the offenses under the act and introduce a wide range of penalties. The new law also provides the executive with the power of hearing and awarding punishments in the form of penalties.
The bill also restricts the role of local communities in benefit sharing. As per the old law, at the time of granting approval for any developmental activity, terms for benefit sharing shall be determined by National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) in accordance with the mutually agreed terms between the applicant, concerned local bodies, and benefit claimers.
The bill amends this to require that approvals should be in accordance with mutually agreed terms between the applicant and the concerned Biodiversity Management Committee represented by NBA only. Thus, benefit claimers and local people will not be directly involved in setting the terms and conditions.
The bill also exempts the users of codified traditional knowledge and AYUSH practitioners from sharing benefits with the local communities. Codified traditional knowledge has not been defined anywhere in the act, adding more ambiguity and scope for exploitation.
Rishabh is the Co-founder and Chief Editor at TA. He tweets at @Writer_Rishabh.
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