The pandemic experienced a slowdown in almost every aspect of our lives, except for the Parliament sessions. Otherwise known for their leisurely working, both the Summer and Monsoon sessions observed multiple Bills hurriedly passed. The public was locked in their homes and couldn’t afford to protest against the Bills (there have been a few delightful exceptions though), save for occasional Twitter storms. Here’s a look at six most crucial Bills that were passed during the financial year beset by the pandemic and how they will impact us in future.
The Mineral Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2020, was passed by the Rajya Sabha in September 2020 to propose changes to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 1957. Aimed at promoting ease of doing business in the coal and mining sector, the amendment allows companies with no prior experience in coal/mineral mining to bid for mines in India. This is expected to increase investment of more domestic and global companies in the second largest coal producing sector. Not only this, the amendment also allows successful bidders to begin operation without having to update their clearances and licences. Earlier, every successful bidder was required to renew over 20 statutory approvals before starting their mining operation.
The amendment has provided even more leniency to practice coal and mineral mining in India. This is going to be counterproductive to India’s target of cleaning up coal and reducing its consumption by 2030.
The current financial year started amid the coronavirus lockdown, and one of the first ordinances, which was later brought to the floor of the Parliament in September, was related to taxation. The taxation ordinance announced in March 2020 aimed to provide relief to taxpayers by deferring deadlines as per the GST and IT Act. The last date to file income tax returns for FY 2019-20 was extended from July 31, 2020, to November 30, 2020. Furthermore, the Bill provided a 100% tax deduction for any contribution made to PM CARES Fund.
Although the extension aided taxpayers amid the lockdown, the PM CARES exemption raised many eyebrows. PM CARES is not a public authority, and hence, not obliged to reveal to the citizens the total amount donated or how the donation is being utilised. The law is thus a convenient scheme of transferring public money to the ginormous kitty of the politicians.
The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha passed three labour code Bills — Industrial Relations Code, 2020, Code on Social Security, 2020, and Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 — on September 19, 2020, when the Opposition was absent from the two Houses to protest against the three farm Bills. Twenty nine central laws were codified into these four Bills, with the argument that it will ensure compliance and uniformity.
The three ‘anti-farmer’ farm Bills first got popular due to the manner in which they were passed in the Rajya Sabha. The Bills were passed when some Opposition leaders had left the session in protest against the Bills while others were raising their voice during the voice vote. Since the Bills were passed almost three months ago, farmers from across the country have been protesting against them, demanding the government to withdraw them.
The three black laws, as the agitating farmers are calling them, essentially propose to decentralise and de-regularise the agriculture sector, which was protected by the government so far, leaving farmers at the mercy of corporate interest.
Passed in 2019 in the Lok Sabha, the Bill got passed in the Rajya Sabha only in March 2020. The Bill proposes to replace the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970, with a new commission that will frame policies in the Indian System of Medicine and assess requirements of healthcare professionals and infrastructure.
The Bill has been criticised for not including yoga and naturopathy. Many analysts have also claimed that the Bill lacks vision.
In yet another step towards privatisation, the Centre passed the Major Port Authorities Bill in September 2020. The infrastructure of all 12 major ports of India will be leased to private operators to bring professionalism in port operation and take them to the competitive market.
The Centre took advantage of the crisis and passed Bills that would not have passed as easily in an ordinary, no-lockdown year. Now, with the government announcing a cancellation of this year’s Winter session at the Parliament, is there more left for the Indian democracy to be seen?