The upcoming winter session of parliament is expected to be impacted by the assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh but the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is planning to push forward its reform agenda and not let the differences between the central government and the opposition play a role in the passage of crucial bills.
The two crucial bills that the government wants to get passed in the winter session are the Personal Data Protection Bill and the Electricity Amendment Bill, 2022.
The government withdrew the Personal Data Protection Bill from Parliament during the monsoon session this year after the Joint Parliamentary Committee suggested over 80 amendments and recommendations, and it now plans to bring a more comprehensive bill likely to be tabled in the winter session.
Another bill that the union government is keen to get passed in the winter session is the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022. The bill is significant because it will allow multiple power distribution companies to operate in the same area by amending the Electricity Act, 2003. The month-long winter session normally starts around the last week of November.
Although the bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Energy during the monsoon session, the government is keen that the parliamentary committee submits its report in the winter session.
The union government described the bill as a major reform in the energy sector because it gives people the ability to choose their electricity suppliers. However, most of the opposition-ruled states, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Delhi, West Bengal, and Congress-ruled states have protested against the bill.
The main charge levelled by opposition parties is that the bill violated the country’s federal structure.
While the BJP government is pushing to pass the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022, it is not willing to take any chances. The political developments in the country are now visible in parliament as well. The recent political squabble in Bihar, which caused Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) to break away from the BJP and join forces with the Rashtriya Janata Dal, is reflected in the allocation of chairmanship of parliamentary standing committees.
Assuming that JDU will now join hands with the Congress, Trinamool Congress and other opposition parties and delay the submission of the recommendations of the standing committee on Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2022, the chairperson of the standing committee on energy, Rajiv Ranjan Singh or Lalan Singh, was replaced by Jagdambika Pal. Singh is now the chairman of the Standing Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs.
“This is a deliberate move to undermine the opposition parties. The government has ill-treated the opposition parties and it is a sad development which is against the norms of Parliament. There is no doubt that it is the prerogative of the Parliamentary Affairs Minister to make these allocations, but many opposition parties are complaining because all the important committees have been given to BJP members. It is for the first time that chairmanship of standing committees like defence, finance, home, external affairs, energy, and information technology are all with BJP members,” said KC Tyagi, senior leader of JDU.
Political analysts believe that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government enjoys a majority in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and it controls the legislation process because of its numerical strength in both houses of Parliament.
“This is a clear sign that the government wants greater control over the process of legislation and passage of bills, even as it has a majority both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. As far as numbers are concerned, the government does not have to worry because it has the support of enough parliamentarians both from the BJP and like-minded parties. The reason for the changes made in the standing committees is that the government believes that opposition parties could use these platforms for scoring political points,” said Sanjay Kumar, professor and co-director of Lokniti, a research programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.