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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Centre puts Citizenship Bill on agenda of House in the upcoming Winter session

The controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, which accelerates the process under which non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan can get Indian citizenship, figures in the tentative list of 35 bills the parliamentary affairs ministry has sent to the legislative branch of the Lok Sabha.

india Updated: Nov 16, 2019 00:38 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Winter Session will begin on Monday and is scheduled to go on until December 13.
The Winter Session will begin on Monday and is scheduled to go on until December 13.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
         

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has officially informed Parliament that it wants to amend the Citizenship Act in the upcoming Winter Session of Parliament, a move that promises to trigger protests by many Opposition parties and make for a lively session.

The controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, which accelerates the process under which non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan can get Indian citizenship, figures in the tentative list of 35 bills the parliamentary affairs ministry has sent to the legislative branch of the Lok Sabha.

The list, provided by the Lok Sabha secretariat, also includes the industrial relations code — one of the four key labour reforms the government wants to legislate — and laws replacing two ordinances, one banning e-cigarettes and the other lowering corporate tax rates.

The Winter Session will begin on Monday and is scheduled to go on until December 13.

Congress’s Lok Sabha floor leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said his party would oppose the bill if it comes to the House. “There is no change in our stand. They want to give Indian citizenship on the basis of religion, which will not be permissible under judicial scrutiny,” said Chowdhury.

Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla has called a meeting of leaders of various parties on Saturday, where the government is likely to discuss its legislative agenda with the Opposition. Birla is expected to ask all the parties to refrain from jumping into the well of the House and to not disturb proceedings.

The Winter Session comes after a very productive monsoon session, the first of the second Narendra Modi government.

The budget session of Parliament, the first session in the Modi government’s second term earlier this year, had ended on a high note. It scripted history by scrapping Article 370 of the Constitution (that gave special status to Jammu & Kashmri), enacting laws to bifurcate J&K into two Union territories, and clearing the landmark bill on triple talaq. It was the most productive inaugural session of a new Lok Sabha since Independence.

Overall, 30 bills, including financial legislations that are part of the budget, were cleared by both Houses, the highest in any session in the past decade. The Lower House, too, sat for more than 280 hours, often till evening, and cleared 36 bills, setting a new benchmark.

Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) said, “It is difficult to predict how the session will unfold. But I think the government’s morale is high and it will approach the session with a lot of confidence. Yes, we should also expect a lot of opposition to the citizenship amendment bill.”

The government has divided its tentative list of business into five categories, depending on the status of the bill in Parliament. The Citizenship amendment bill belongs to the category of new bills to be introduced and passed in the session.

The government may also bring the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill to simplify the adoption process, the Personal Data Protection Bill, and Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill, according to the list of tentative business provided by the Lok Sabha secretariat. The Personal Data Protection Bill is aimed at protecting personal data of citizens and simultaneously facilitate the growth of the digital economy and to regulate all aspects of data and details. It entails fulfilment of various obligations wherever personal data is involved.

Parliamentary affairs minister Prahlad Joshi has called another meeting on Sunday with party leaders to discuss the pending agenda and issues before the two Houses.

The government’s priority will also be to replace the two ordinances. The ordinance banning e-cigarettes was brought to help protect people, especially children. The ordinance on tax rates was a stimulus measure to tackle the economic slowdown. It reduced the corporate tax rate to a flat 22% (25.17% with cess and surcharge) for companies willing to give up all other exemptions.

Among other legislation, the government will try to bring bills to set up national commissions on homeopathy and Indian systems of medicine. It may also bring a bill to establish a National Police University and another to set up a Central Sanskrit University.

A senior BJP strategist in the Rajya Sabha refused to elaborate on the ruling party’s strategy for the Winter Session and said the government will discuss the plan in the coming all-party meetings.

Chowdhury maintained that the Congress will try to corner the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government primarily on issues of unemployment and the economic slowdown. “Many issues are likely to come up. But our main focus will be on the bread and butter issues. The way the BJP has mismanaged the economy and shrinking job opportunities will be highlighted during the session.”