At least five of the 30 members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill are moving dissent notes. Sources said that at least three of these are directed at the controversial clause that allows the Union Government to exempt any agency under its purview from the law.
According to informed sources, Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh, Manish Tewari and Gaurav Gogoi; Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’ Brien; and Biju Janata Dal MP Amar Patnaik will be moving the dissent notes. Sources said that more members could join this list. The panel is meeting on Monday to adopt the long-pending report on the law. The panel has been studying the Bill since 2019.
Clause 35, in the name of “sovereignty”, “friendly relations with foreign states”' and “security of the state” allows any agency under the Union Government exemption from all or any provisions of the law. This clause assumes importance in the backdrop of recent revelations in the Pegasus spyware case, where both private and public citizens were allegedly snooped upon by the government.
The panel reached a middle path on the clause by agreeing that the Government has to record in writing the reasons to give exemption to any agency. Demands that this clause be suitably amended to also include the provision to seek approval from Parliament for seeking such exemptions was not accepted.
Mr. Ramesh was one of the members who argued that the government should table the recorded reasons in Parliament for providing exemption to any government agency to bring in greater transparency and accountability.
In his dissent note against Clause 35, Mr. Ramesh said the design of the PDP 2019 Bill assumes that the Constitutional right to privacy arises only where operations and activities of private companies are concerned. “Governments and government agencies are treated as a separate privileged class whose operations and activities are always in the public interest and individual privacy considerations are secondary,” he wrote.
He added that the idea that the August 2017 Puttaswamy (privacy) judgment of the Supreme Court is relevant only for “a very, very, very tiny section of the Indian population” and “is in my view deeply flawed and troubling”.