1. Pointing the Finger at Parliamentary Scrutiny – Farm Bills and Lapse in the Management of Legislative Work
GS 2- Working of the Parliament
- The demand for repeal of laws passed by Parliament shows a serious lapse in the management of legislative work.
- Negotiations between the government and the farmers seem to have produced no result, and the farmers are determined to scale up their agitation in the coming days.
- Reportedly, the negotiations has led the government to willfully amend these Acts now in order to meet the demands of the farmers.
- It is another matter that the farmers have rejected these proposals. They have made it clear that they want these laws to be repealed and if necessary, fresh laws to be enacted after discussions with the farmers and other stakeholders.
The Parliamentary Process of Refining Bills
- Parliament is the supreme law-making body which has put in place a large machinery of committees to scrutinise the Bills which are brought before it by the government as a part of its legislative programme.
- Rules of the Houses leave it to the Speaker or the Chairman to refer the Bills to the Standing Committees for a detailed scrutiny thereof.
- After such scrutiny is completed, the committees send their reports containing their recommendations on improvements to be made in the Bills to the Houses.
- While undertaking such scrutiny, the committees invite various stakeholders to place their views before them.
- Only after elaborate consultation do the committees formulate their views and recommendations.
- Under any circumstances, the Bills which come back to the Houses after the scrutiny by the committees will be in a much better shape in terms of their content.
- Although, technically, the reference to the committees is within the discretion of the Speaker or the Chairman, the intendment of the Rules is that all important Bills should go before the committees for a detailed examination.
Does Every Bill Undergo the Scrutiny?
- Every Bill which comes before the Houses need not be sent to the committees. For example, some minor Amendment Bills or Bills which do not have any serious ramifications need not be sent to the committees. That is precisely why the Presiding officers have been given the discretion in the matter of reference of Bills to committees.
- But, it does not mean that they can exercise their discretion not to refer to the committee an important Bill which has serious implications for society. Such an action only defeats the purpose of the Rules.
Current Situation - Draughtman’s Creations
- Data show that very few Bills are referred to the Parliamentary Committees now.
- Ministers are generally reluctant to send their Bills to the committees because they are in a hurry to pass them.
- They often request the Presiding Officers not to refer their Bills to the committees. But the Presiding Officers are required to exercise their independent judgement in the matter and decide the issue.
- They need to keep in mind the fact that the Bills which the government brings before the Houses often have serious shortcomings. They are in fact draughtsman’s creations.
- Members of Parliament who know the ground realities should work to put the process of relining bills in better shape.
The History of Legislation
- The Indian experience of legislative scrutiny of Bills goes back to the post-Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms. In fact, the British Parliament has been doing it since the 16th century.
- It is interesting to note that the Central Legislative Assembly which was the Parliament of British India, had set up three committees: Committee on Petitions relating to Bills, Select Committee of Amendments of standing orders and Select Committee on Bills.
- Thus, even the colonial Parliament recognised the need and usefulness of parliamentary scrutiny of Bills brought to the House by the government.
- Free India’s Parliament established a vast network of committees to undertake scrutiny of various aspects of governance including the Bills.
- Prior to the formation of Standing Committees, the Indian Parliament used to appoint select committees, joint select committees, etc. for detailed scrutiny of important legislative proposals of the government.
- With the formation of standing committees, the occasions for appointing select or joint select committees are few.
Pre-Requisite to Forming Committess
- So far as the select committees or joint select committees are concerned, generally, a proposal from the Opposition to set up such a committee is agreed to by the government.
- Usually, some informal consultations take place between the government and the Opposition before a consensus is arrived at on the formation of such committees.
The Progress of Bill Refinement – Examples
- Past important legislative proposals were usually sent to the committees for detailed examination; this resulted in the improvement of their content.
- The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Bill was introduced in 1999 in the Lok Sabha and was immediately referred to a joint committee of both Houses.
- This Bill was meant to develop new varieties of plants and protect the rights of farmers and breeders. The committee completed its work in eight months and made many improvements by way of bringing greater clarity into various terms and concepts.
- Similarly, the Seeds Bill, 2004 was referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture which obtained the views of agricultural research institutions, agricultural universities, national and State seed corporations, private seed companies, scientists, farmers’ organisations, non-governmental organisations and individuals. Through the process of consultation with a wide range of experts and research organisations and farmers, the committee made significant improvements in the Bill; as a result, there was a better law on seeds.
- It was the same case with the Companies (Amendment) Bill, the Information Technology Bill, and the Goods and Services Tax Bill, to name a few.
- The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2011, which was referred to the Committee, was again referred to a Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha when it was transmitted to that House after being passed by the Lok Sabha. Thus, this Bill underwent double security by two committees of Parliament.
Lack of Scrutiny of The Farm Bills
- The Farm Bills —were not sent to the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture for a detailed study.
- The bills appear to seek to alter the well-established system of grain trade in major grain growing States and which have left farmers completely shaken.
- The Committee is sure to have consulted the farmers apart from other stakeholders and suggested improvements which, perhaps, could have averted the current agitation.
Concllusion - Functioning By Consensus
- Our Parliamentary Committees have a tradition of working in a non-party manner.
- The reports of these Committees are based on consensus.
- The systems of Parliament are inclusive. They have the capacity to harmonise contradictions.
- Despite the adversarial politics playing out in full force in the Houses, the calm atmosphere prevailing in the committee rooms and the purposiveness shown by the members in dealing with issues are a tremendously reassuring factor.
- To make these systems gradually non-functional and irrelevant is to invite disaster.
2. Connecting More People: On PM WANI Scheme
GS 3- Science and technology
Central government’s move to enable public wi-fi data service through PM WANI Scheme can get many more people connected, just like telephony was expanded through STD public call offices.
Pm Wani Scheme
- The full form of PM WANI is Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface.
- In this scheme, the public network will be set up by the public data office aggregators (PDOAs) to provide Wi-Fi service through the public data offices (PDOs) spread throughout the country.
- The scheme will accelerate the expansion of broadband internet services through a public Wi-Fi network.
- The scheme will another step towards Digital India.
- According to the scheme an application will be developed to register users and discover the WANI-compliant Wi-Fi hotspots in the nearby area.
- This application will display them within it for accessing internet service.
- To maintain details of app providers, PDOAs and PDOs, there will be a central registry.
- The central registry will be maintained by the Centre of Development for Telematics.
- C-DOT is a government-owned telecommunications technology development centre.
- Here, no license fee will be charged for providing broadband internet services.
- Using public Wi-Fi with no license fee will accelerate Wi-Fi hotspot penetration across the country.
- An e KYC is required, when any customer wanting to access the network from a PDO’s premise.
Centre of Development For Telematics
- This centre is an Indian Government owned Telecom Technology Development Centre.
- It was established in 1984.
- Its initial mandate was of designing and developing digital exchanges.
- Today, it has expanded itself in the area of Telecom.
- This centre is now a Next-Generation Technology Centre developing various intelligent software applications.
- Its office is in New Delhi and Bengaluru.
- The key objective to develop this centre was to build a centre for excellence in the area of telecom technology.
Benefits of The Scheme
- Public wi-fi through PM WANI will be a low-cost option to reach unserved citizens and grow the economy.
- To enable public wi-fi, through small retail data offices can get many more people connected.
- This expansion will be just as long-distance telephony was expanded through STD public call offices over three decades ago.
- This Internet access will connect a new wave of users for commercial options, entertainment options, to education, telehealth and agriculture extension.
- This internet access will bring greater accountability to the government by boosting transparency and interactivity.
- The scheme will cut the extra involvement of bureaucracy and also eliminate licences and fees. This benefits, even for a tea shop owner to register online as a service provider and opening up new income medium.
- Three years ago, the first pilot of a public wi-fi system on the WANI architecture started.
- With this public wi-fi, it noted that a 10% rise in net penetration led to a 1.4% increase in GDP.
- The WANI scheme offers an elegant way forward to connect low revenue consumers.
- The scheme opens up opportunities for community organisations, libraries, educational institutions, panchayats and small entrepreneurs to tap into a whole new ecosystem, purchasing bandwidth from a public data office aggregator to serve local consumers.
- If the scheme will implement properly, the public data offices (PDOs) of PM WANI can do what the PCOs did for phone calls.
- The scheme will good to ‘ease of doing business’ to genuinely empower citizens.
- Till now, there has remained a challenge before us, for Bringing broadband internet to remote locations at minimum investment and giving subscribers the option of making small, need-based payments to use.
Challenges Before the Scheme
- Till now Public wi-fi suffered neglect because it was seen as a competitor to data services sold by mobile telecom firms.
- Public wi-fi was never seen in the past as complementary technology.
- In rural India, there is low penetration of Internet service, which is 27.57 subscribers per 100 population in 2019.
- Upcoming mobile technologies such as 5G may provide good quality data.
- But 5G involve high investment in the new spectrum, connectivity equipment and regular subscriber fees
- Expectations of citizens are to get robust service, protection of data integrity, transparency on commercial use of data, and security against cyberattacks.
- The government have to ensure true unbundling of hardware, software, apps and payment gateways in the WANI system, to prevent monopolies.
- Existing public wi-fi options run on a limited scale by some entities, also compel consumers to pay through a single gateway app. This situation is underscoring the need for reform.
So the mission to develop every aspect of society, economy on the digital platform may be possible with this new scheme.