Parliament panel adopts report on data protection amid dissent by several Opposition MPs

Bill was referred to the JCP for scrutiny before it was taken up by Parliament for consideration and passage

Bill was referred to the JCP for scrutiny before it was taken up by Parliament for consideration and passage
Bill was referred to the JCP for scrutiny before it was taken up by Parliament for consideration and passage

Tewari, Jairam submit dissent note on data protection bill

The Joint Committee of Parliament (JCP) examining the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 has adopted its report on the bill with several opposition MPs, including those from the Congress, TMC, and BJD, submitting their dissent notes. The report was adopted after almost two years of setting up the joint panel when the bill was referred to for further scrutiny and making recommendations. It is learned that four MPs from the Congress and two from the Trinamool Congress and one from the Biju Janata Dal opposed certain provisions of the panel’s recommendations.

Congress leader and chief whip of the party in Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh gave his dissent note to the committee on the bill after the panel adopted its report at its meeting here. The former Union minister also lauded the democratic manner in which the panel functioned under P P Chaudhary‘s chairmanship for the past four months. Besides Ramesh, Congress MPs Manish Tewari, Gaurav Gogoi, and Vivek Tankha also submitted their dissent notes, along with TMC’s Derek O’Brien and Mohua Moitra and BJD’s Amar Patnaik. The report was delayed by the panel as its former chairperson Meenakshi Lekhi was elevated a minister and Chaudhary was appointed as its new chairperson.

The bill was referred to the JCP for scrutiny before it was taken up by Parliament for consideration and passage. Ramesh shared the information that the report has been adopted by the panel. “Finally, it is done… There are dissent notes but that is in the best spirit of parliamentary democracy. Sadly, such examples are few and far between under the Modi regime,” he said:

Ramesh said he was compelled to submit a detailed dissent note on the bill as his suggestions were not accepted and he was unable to convince the members. “But that should not detract from the democratic manner in which the committee has functioned. Now, for the debate in Parliament,” he tweeted. Tewari and Gogoi also said they had submitted their dissent notes to the Secretariat of the committee after the final meeting of the Joint Committee on Data Protection. “We started in December 2019 and finished in November 2021,” Tewari said.

Tewari tweeted:

“I have been constrained to submit a very detailed note of dissent since I do not agree with the fundamental design of proposed legislation. It will not stand the test of law,” he said. Tewari said his fundamental objection was that there is an inherent design flaw in the bill’s very construction. A bill that seeks to provide blanket exemptions, either in perpetuity or even for a limited period, to the ‘state’ and its instrumentalities is ultra vires of the Fundamental Right to Privacy as laid down by a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court, he said.

Tewari said he did not think the bill in its present form, especially most of its exception and exemption clauses, including carve-outs for governments that exempt these behemoths from the ambit of this legislation would stand the test of ‘vires‘ in a court of law. “I, therefore, am constrained to holistically reject the bill in its present form in entirety for this design flaw,” he said.

On his reservations about the bill that was part of his dissent note, Gogoi said there was a lack of attention being paid to harms arising from surveillance and an effort to establish a modern surveillance framework.

Ramesh in his dissent note said he had suggested amendments to Section 35, the bill’s most crucial provision, as well as to Section 12. He has argued that Section 35 gives almost unbridled powers to the Centre to exempt any government agency from the entire act itself. “Under the amendment, I had suggested, the Centre will have to get parliamentary approval for exempting any of its agencies from the purview of the law. Even then, the government must always comply with the bill’s requirement of fair and reasonable processing and implementing the necessary security safeguards,” Ramesh said.

The TMC MPs described the bill as “Orwellian” in nature and raised questions on the panel’s functioning. They alleged it rushed through its mandate and did not provide sufficient time and opportunity for stakeholder consultations, the sources said. They also said they opposed the bill for lack of adequate safeguards to protect the right to privacy of data principles, the sources said.

Ramesh, in his dissent note, said the JCP’s report allows two years for private companies to migrate to the new data protection regime but governments and their agencies have no such stipulation. He argued the bill’s design assumes that the constitutional right to privacy arises only where operations and activities of private companies are concerned.

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