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  • The Parliament’s Winter Session starting on Monday is expected to witness much heat as the Opposition looks to corner the Union government over issues like the economic slowdown
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his customary remarks at an all-party meeting held on Sunday, asserted that the government is ready to discuss every issue.
  • The previous session of Parliament had created the record for maximum Bills passed in the last 67 years.

The Parliament’s Winter Session starting on Monday is expected to witness much heat as the Opposition looks to corner the Union government over issues such as the economic slowdown and the situation in Kashmir while the Modi dispensation seeks to push through the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, a key part of the BJP’s ideological agenda.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his customary remarks at an all-party meeting held on Sunday, asserted that the government is ready to discuss every issue and exhorted everyone to make the Winter Session as productive as the last one, when Parliament gave its nod to the bifurcation of the then state of Jammu and Kashmir and nullifying Article 370, besides several other important bills.

The previous session of Parliament created a record for maximum Bills passed in the last 67 years. During the session, the Lok Sabha worked for 281 hours, or 135 percent of the scheduled hours. This figure is higher than any other session in the past 20 years. The Centre had extended the session in order to complete the legislative business. The Rajya Sabha also saw high productivity, at 100 percent.

On Sunday, Opposition leaders, including Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress, raised the continuing “illegal” detention of mainstream leaders in Jammu and Kashmir like Farooq Abdullah, who is also a Lok Sabha member, and said they will take up issues like economic slowdown and unemployment in the session, which ends on 13 December.

In the previous session, the BJP-led NDA had left the Opposition stunned by winning over independent regional parties, especially in the Rajya Sabha where the treasury benches lacked majority, and wooing a number of rival leaders to get a host of bills passed. However, this time, the Congress-led grouping has some reasons to feel emboldened over recent political developments.

The Opposition’s better-than-expected show in the recent Assembly polls, the BJP’s break in ties with the Shiv Sena and reports of an economic slowdown have put wind in the sails of Opposition parties.

The 18 Sena MPs in the Lok Sabha and three in Rajya Sabha have now been allotted seats in the Opposition rows after the party severed ties with its longtime ally BJP and is in talks with the Congress-NCP alliance to form government in Maharashtra.

Despite the setback, numbers favour the treasury benches, with the BJP appearing determined to get Parliament’s approval on its legislative agenda that was stonewalled in the Modi government’s first term when the Opposition outnumbered it in the Upper House.

The Supreme Court verdict in the Ayodhya case favouring a Ram temple at the disputed site has also come has a boost to the saffron ranks.

Key legislation on agenda

The government has listed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, a key BJP plank which is aimed at granting nationality to non-Muslim immigrants from neighbouring countries, for passage.

The Modi government introduced the bill in its previous tenure but could not push it through due to vehement protests by Opposition parties, which criticised the bill as discriminatory on religious grounds.

The legislation seeks to grant Indian citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan if they have fled their respective countries due to religious persecution.

There has been opposition to the bill in Assam and other Northeastern states, where most of these immigrants, mostly Hindus, have been living. Student organisations, political parties and socio-cultural bodies have been protesting on the grounds that it seeks to grant nationality to non-Muslims, mostly Hindus, who have come into India up to 31 December, 2014, thereby increasing the deadline from 1971 as per the Assam Accord.

The government also plans to seek Parliament’s nod to two crucial ordinances. An ordinance reducing corporate tax rate for new and domestic manufacturing companies to arrest slowdown in the economy and boost growth was issued in September to give effect to amendments in the Income Tax Act, 1961 and Finance Act, 2019.

The second ordinance, also issued in September, banned sale, manufacture and storage of e-cigarettes and similar products. Other key bills such as Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, Anti Maritime Piracy Bill 2019 and Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 are among the 47 items expected to be taken up during the House proceedings.

The Personal Data Protection Bill is about handling and processing of consumer information by corporate organisations and introducing strict regulations and penalties. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, that was passed in the Lok Sabha in July, seeks to prohibit discrimination against transgender persons, including in matters of employment and provides for giving certificates of identity to them.

The Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes (Production, Manufacture, Import, Export, Sale, Distribution, Storage and Advertisement) Bill, 2019 is also expected to come up in the House and would replace an ordinance that was approved by the Cabinet in September. The ordinance prohibits the manufacture, trade, and advertisement of e-cigarettes in India.

The ban includes e-hookahs and online sale and advertisement of e-cigarettes. Violations constitute a cognisable offence, punishable with an imprisonment of up to one year or fine up to Rs 1 lakh or both for the first offence and imprisonment of up to three years and fine up to Rs 5 lakh for a subsequent offence.

Other important bills to come up during the Winter Session of Parliament are: The Industrial Relations Code Bill, 2019, The Companies (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019, Chit Funds (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Arms Act (Amendment) Bill 2019, Central Sanskrit University Bill 2019, Insolvency and Bankruptcy (Second Amendment) Bill 2019, Disaster Management (First Amendment) Bill 2019, Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill 2019 and Arms Act (Amendment Bill) 2019.

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