With the Winter Parliament Session finally over, there's a whole lot of information, news, and reactions to process. Having ended on the controversial note of the Citizenship Amendment Act (2019), it could be easy to forget everything else that over the 20-day period. If you're jogging your memory as you read this, fear not. In no particular order- (or are they?)
Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019
Yes, I doubt anyone has forgotten about this, but we can't not mention the Citizenship Amendment Act in such a list. The Amendment provides relaxed rules for attaining citizenship for religiously persecuted communities of neighbouring countries. Namely, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Parsi, and Jain immigrants, from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. From the previous 11 years of inhabiting India, the law has been relaxed to only 5 years for these particular communities.
Exactly how religious persecution will be proved or determined is yet to be seen or fully understood, with the Intelligence Bureau's reports raising questions regarding effectiveness. Protests and criticisms against the Act include condemnation of the selective nature towards particular communities, the exclusion of Muslims despite being a secular nation, and the North-Eastern states fearing dilution of their culture and demographics due to mass-immigration and citizenship being granted. Some people also accuse the BJP of trying to increase their vote bank in northeastern states, where they don't have as much support, through this bill.
Transgender Persons (Protection Of Rights) Act
The Transgender Persons (Protection Of Rights) Act was aimed towards improving socioeconomic situations for trans people. However, wide rejection from the queer community and experts left people wondering why it was passed in the Winter Parliament Session first place.
The new act addresses trans folk's right to self-identify, but also requires certification of transgender status from a District Magistrate, hence contradicting itself. Moreover, changing documentation to male or female requires sexual reassignment surgery (SRS). This is directly is a step backwards from the NALSA judgement of 2014.
Another controversial point is that trans minors are forced to stay in their households or be sent to rehabilitation centres. Both these environments may be discriminatory or abusive. Furthermore, punishment for sexual assault against a transgender individual is only 6 months to 2 years. In comparison, sexual assault against women carries a sentence from 7 years to life imprisonment. (India still fails to recognise male rape victims.) Forced, bonded labour is also punished, although this can easily include beggary, a primary source of income for low-income trans people.
Arms (Amendment) Bill
The Amendments to the Arms Bill allow the sentencing of life imprisonment for those illegally manufacturing or carrying firearms. Moreover, rash usage such as "celebratory gunfire," or endangering people's safety, carries a fine of up to 1 lakh or imprisonment up to2 years or both. Heirloom items, however, can be retained if deactivated.
People possessing more than two firearms must submit the third to the police station or authorised gun dealers. There are special provisions for sportspersons who require guns for their sport. At the moment, around 35 lakh gun licenses have been provided within India, with 13 lakh people in UP possessing licenses. J&K combined possess 3.7 lakh at second-most, and Punjab houses 3.6 lakh licensed individuals.
A new offence has also been introduced for forcefully obtaining arms or ammo from police or armed forces. Punishment ranges from ten years to life imprisonment.
Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill
The new tax laws provide domestic companies with an "option" to pay 22% taxes instead of 30% if they do not claim deductions under the IT Act. In addition, new domestic manufacturing companies could pay taxes at only 15%, provided they were set up and registered after 30 September 2019 and begin manufacturing before April 1 2023.
This is one of the many measures Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman intends to take to combat slowing economic growth. It may help India's economy transform structurally and boost manufacturing, production, and innovation through the incentive of lower tax rates. Sitharaman aims to improve manufacturing investment in the country through this move. It is yet to be seen how the impact shapes out to be, with concerns over the fiscal deficit worsening due to decreased corporate tax collections being voiced.
Personal Data Protection Bill
While the Personal Data Protection Bill was based on a robust EU counterpart, there are more than a few concerns regarding its introduction to the Parliament.
The bill does require companies gathering data to simplify privacy policies in order to let people know what data is being collected, and how. Furthermore, restrictions on how said data can be processed were a much-needed step, along with consumers' ability to withdraw any data or consent for supplying data at any point from private firms.
However, the bill allows the government a broad range of access to personal data without consent, under requirements loosely termed as national security, friendly international relations, or the provision of public goods and services. Moreover, governments can ask for anonymised versions of companies' data at any point. Even the Regulators set up to ensure appropriate and democratic acquirement and usage of data are government-appointed. This vests far too much power in the hands of the central authorities and is criticised by the original drafter of the bill, B. N. Srikrishna. The original draft did not allow the government as much leeway and power as the draft introduced this Winter Parliament Session does.
Miscellaneous Highlights From The Winter Parliament Session
Here are a few moments we could not miss out, even though they may not have as much legal implication as the bills mentioned above.
Amit Shah announced plans for "pan-India NRC," creating emotions of fear and concern for citizens across the country after having observed the disastrous implementation of Assam.
Nirmala Sitharaman says she does not consume onions while talking about inflation. The statement invited accusations of being insensitive and elitist, which the FM vehemently opposed and denied, claiming she was taken out of context.
Pragya Thakur, after being selected as part of a Parliamentary Panel advising Defence, calls Godse a patriot once again, but this time in the Parliament itself. After massive outrage and opposition, she has since been removed from the Parliamentary Panel.