Sidestepping the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, the Lok Sabha adopted a resolution moved by Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to refer the Personal Data Protection Bill to a Joint Select Committee (JSC).
Amid protests by the Opposition, Prasad introduced ‘The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019’ in the Lok Sabha. Rejecting the Opposition’s allegations of surveillance as “completely wrong, unsustainable, malicious and misleading”, Prasad said, “What we are doing is, we are protecting the privacy of Indians.”
The minister said, “If one misuses data beyond the permissible consent, he will face consequences. We have given provision of penalty of crores of rupees… We have decided to put data into three categories. One is critical data — critical is what, the government will notify it from time to time; the second is sensitive data which relates to income, medical records, sexual preferences and a whole lot of things. Critical data cannot go out of India at all. Sensitive data can go out of India only with the consent of the individual and with the approval of the authority.” The Speaker then asked Prasad to introduce the Bill but Opposition members sought a division. MPs of the Congress, NCP, DMK and TMC later staged a walkout. Moving a resolution in the House, Prasad said the Bill may be referred to a joint committee. The resolution was passed by voice vote. In a letter to the Lok Sabha Speaker later, it is learnt that IT Standing Committee chairman Shashi Tharoor urged the Speaker to “caution this government against such wilful exercise of undermining the House”. “In a brazen disregard for the Committee, and by extension, the parliamentary convention relating to Standing Committees, this government has chosen to establish Joint Select Committee, presumably in order to extend its control by a Chairman from the ruling party. The exercise in creating a Joint Select Committee on a matter that rests squarely within the purview of an existing Standing Committee sets a dangerous precedent…” he wrote.
Surprise move, leaves questions
The Bill was widely expected to be sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT. However, MPs were taken by surprise when the IT Minister moved a resolution to hand it over to a joint select committee. While the Standing Committee on IT is chaired by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, the joint select committee will be headed by a ruling party member. While Tharoor wrote to the Lok Sabha Speaker in protest, many questioned the motive given the red flags raised by experts on the sweeping powers the Bill accords to government agencies to call for personal data of individuals.
The IT Parliamentary Committee’s meeting scheduled for Wednesday was postponed to Friday. According to Tharoor, the Speaker had asked him to do so considering a whip issued by the BJP to Rajya Sabha MPs. Two other people who were scheduled to speak in front of the Committee also said that they received a call from the Cabinet Secretariat’s office saying the Speaker had directed the meeting be cancelled.
With a photo of the schedule for the day, Tharoor tweeted that he had asked the Speaker whether other panel meetings were affected. “I specifically asked the Speaker whether his request affected all Committee meetings scheduled for today. He assured me it did. I am shocked to learn that the other Committees held their meetings and ours was the only one not allowed to meet. Does the government have something to hide?” he tweeted.-With ENS, Delhi