Road rage, high medical costs, respect for workers, and crimes against women – these are but some of the things we ought to have left behind in 2018, as we make our way into a brand new year.
But how do we make that happen? One of the biggest tools we have at our disposal is the democratic process of Bills in Parliament. A precursor to a law, many Bills introduced by Private Members (of parliament) aim to solve pressing social issues in India. The sad part, though, is that we do not often hear of theme. But let’s talk about nine Bills we should definitely be aware of.
In 2016, The Compulsory Mental Healthcare Counselling Facilities in Government Schools Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Kirit Solanki of the BJP in Gujarat, this Bill aims to provide mental health support to children, especially in village areas. Solanki’s identifies early childhood trauma like domestic violence or sexual abuse as the focal point, and recommends that government schools provide a space for children to open up, heal, shed the stigma, and receive the care they need.
Currently, the state of mental healthcare in India is, pardon my French, completely whack. Not only do most people efface disorders with ineffective advice like “snap out of it”, but many will first approach faith healers instead of professionals. Both of these approaches deny a person proper care.
12.5% of children aged 16 and under suffer from a mental health difficulty. It should be top priority to address this before they hit adulthood. No one should have to carry these issues their whole life.
The Sex Workers (Rehabilitation and Social Security) Bill was introduced in 2015 by Lok Sabha member Poonam Mahajan. Challenging society’s malicious attitudes towards this community, the BJP minister from Maharashtra decided to be in their corner. Mahajan recommends the setting up of five-member Rehabilitation Boards (at the Centre, and in each state), of which two will be sex workers. The Bill has detailed provisions on health care, legal aid, education, skill development, and more.
The Acid (Control) Bill was also drafted by Solanki in 2014. This Bill aims to curb the sale of acid, which has so far been easily procured and used as weapon against women (who make up 80% of persons targeted). While the crime itself is not new, recent years have seen alarming numbers of cases being registered. Human Rights Law Network, a non-profit organisation, puts it at 1,000 attacks a year. In recent times, Laxmi, a fiery young woman, whose jealous boyfriend threw acid on her, has been raising awareness about this crime. It was high time we had a separate law to address it.
Solanki’s Bill seeks to address this horrifying reality. It draws inspiration from countries like Bangladesh, where the Acid Control Act is in force. Solanki recommends appointing “a Controller of Acids to control and regulate the sale and distribution of acids”.
The Data (Privacy and Protection) Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Baijayant Panda in 2017. Of the Biju Janata Dal, Odisha, Panda’s Bill highlights a largely invisible threat that surrounds us all today – the unauthorised possession and use of the personal data we share through digital services.
With every post and selfie and email, so many of us putting ourselves out there on social media, and even governments services moving online, the risk of data being misused rises with every single day. The 25-page draft leans heavily upon the Right To Privacy judgement, outlining the practices for data collection, transfer storage, and deletion. The process will be managed through the setting up of a Data Privacy Authority.
In 2017, The Paternity Benefit Bill emerged from Congress MP Rajeev Satav’s own experiences as a working father. He drafted and introduced the Bill in 2017 to complement the Maternity Benefit Bill. Satav favours an equivalent for fathers, first to take the load off mothers, and also to encourage fathers to do their fair share of childcare. If passed, this Bill would bring India at par with countries like Australia, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden, where Parental Leave is a wonderful reality.
Everywhere we look, our roads are choked with plastic bags, wrappers, discarded styrofoam cups. It’s an annoyingly common sight to see someone roll down their car window and toss out trash. Something has to be done.
The Bio-Degradable Packaging Materials (Compulsory Use in Packing Commodities) Bill was introduced last year by a member of the BJP in Delhi and Lok Sabha MP, Parvesh Sahib Singh Verma. With the health of the environment at its core, its objective is to “curb the usage of plastic and such other non-degradable material in packaging”. The Bill will cover all packed items under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, which includes cattle fodder, coal and its derivatives, automobiles parts, textiles, medicines, and foodstuffs, to name a few.
The menace of plastic waste is a formidable one. Verma writes in his Bill: “[16,000] tonnes of plastic waste per day in the country, out of which, about [9,000] tonnes is recycled, while [6,137] tonnes remains uncollected and littered. Of the total waste, nearly 43% arises from packaging material”. We really should do ourselves a favour and back this Bill!
The Domestic Workers (Decent Working Conditions) Bill was yet another Bill drafted by MP Solanki in 2015. It seeks to put in place healthier and just processes for a profession that has long been unregulated, informal sector work. Present conditions make workers vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. In our fast-paced society, we entrust domestic workers with the job of keeping our homes functioning round the clock. Don’t they deserve a safe work environment? A way to ensure that, Solanki recommends, is an employment agreement. This document will formally contain the name and address of the employer and of the domestic worker, the address of the usual workplace or workplaces, duration and nature of work, work hours, paid leave, and more.
The Bill takes into account many of the demands of domestic workers organisations and aims to manifest them.
In 2017, The Breast Cancer (Awareness and Free Treatment) Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha by National Congress Party member from Maharashtra, Supriya Sule. Through it, she intends to put in place processes for breast cancer awareness, prevention, screening, and medical treatment, through the combined efforts of governments and local aid authorities. With one in 22 women being diagnosed in their lifetime. As scary as cancer is, the prospect of bearing the medical costs is daunting in itself. Between 2000 and 2015, the cost of treatment rose from ₹1,50,000 to ₹6,00,000. The base cost of single mammogram is usually ₹2,000. To provide those affected by breast cancer with free treatment is a huge step forward!
A complete disregard for road safety is a trademark of our society, sadly. But that can change! The Road Safety And Protection Of Vulnerable Road Users Bill was introduced in 2015 by Husain Dalwai, of the Congress in Maharashtra. It goes beyond standard road safety practices of wearing seatbelts and obeying traffic rules. Introduced in the Rajya Sabha, it lays down strict rules for how many people are allowed to travel in one vehicle or on motorcycles and ensuring emergency vehicles (ambulances) have smooth passage. For anxious child-carers, and everyone plagued by angry, bumpy, congested roads, this Bill also details child restraint systems in vehicles, and punishment for bad road design, construction, and maintenance.
With so many Bills like these still pending in Parliament, we ought to strike while the iron is hot. The disappointing truth is that so many Bills lapse, without even being discussed! Yup. That’s what happened to 97% of all Bills introduced between 2009 and 2014 in. We the people can play an active role in the democracy we take so much pride in by directly engaging with Bills, and the representatives who have drafted them.
When Bills are open for public review, isn’t it a good opportunity to let MPs know our thoughts and suggestions, and even receive our support?
So this year, take part in building a better future. Make this the New Year’s resolution you stick to in 2019!