Opposition MPs walk out of Parliamentary panel meet on Personal Data Protection Bill

Though the Bill was not referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT, the panel proposed to adopt a “laudatory” report on it, which was only circulated on the eve of the meeting

Updated - July 27, 2023 08:18 am IST

Published - July 26, 2023 06:59 pm IST - NEW DELHI

File photo of Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj, John Brittas, Karthik Chidambaram, Jawahar Sircar and Wajahat Habibullah seen during a function on ‘Public Meeting on the draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill’, in New Delhi

File photo of Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj, John Brittas, Karthik Chidambaram, Jawahar Sircar and Wajahat Habibullah seen during a function on ‘Public Meeting on the draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill’, in New Delhi | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Opposition members walked out of a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology on Wednesday, objecting to the panel’s adoption of a “laudatory” report on the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023.

The Union Cabinet approved the latest version of the Bill only on July 5, and the Opposition MPs on the panel said none of them had yet read it. The Bill was never formally referred to the committee, which is headed by Shiv Sena (Shinde) MP Prataprao Jhadav. The Opposition MPs said none of them were aware that such a report about the Bill was on the works; the draft report was only circulated on the eve of the meeting.

Despite this, the report claimed that, “The committee, therefore, in no uncertain words endorse the proposed legislation without any reservations or ambiguity.”

Also read | India’s data protection law needs refinement

‘Informal interactions’

Wednesday’s meeting was only the third on the subject of “citizens’ data security and privacy” since the committee was reconstituted in September 2022. It has had just two rounds of discussion with the officials from the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. The committee had been discussing the subject of “citizens’ data security and privacy”, but Opposition MPs noted that a report cannot be framed on the basis of such “informal interactions”.

The meeting saw high drama, with seven Opposition MPs and eight MPs from the BJP and allied parties engaged in a bitter exchange for nearly an hour. Opposition MPs argued that the adoption of the report was patently illegal and broke all Parliamentary traditions.

When the argument came to a head, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey proposed a vote to break the deadlock, at which the Opposition members walked out. The report was then adopted in their absence. Those who walked out included Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP John Brittas — who also moved a dissent note — as well as Congress MP Karti P. Chidambaram, and Trinamool Congress MPs Jawahar Sircar and Mohua Moitra, among others.

Opposition concerns

Speaking to The Hindu on condition of anonymity, a member said, “The established practice is for the Bill to be tabled in either House of the Parliament and then the House refers it to the Standing Committee. Here, no Bill was referred to us, and yet, based on some informal interactions, a laudatory report has been written.”  

Apart from the report’s full-throated endorsement of the Bill, Opposition MPs also objected to the fact that the new Bill — like its 2022 iteration — allows the Union government to provide blanket exemptions for select government agencies. This will lead to violations of the fundamental right to privacy, they said.

According to sources, Mr. Brittas’ dissent note has also flagged concerns that the new Bill is “excessively delegated legislation”, leaving its implementation entirely to the executive branch of government. The new Bill also ignores the 2019 Joint Parliamentary Committee’s comments on its previous avatar. The 2019 JPC had recommended that personal data in non-digital formats should not be excluded, Mr. Brittas pointed out.

TMC MP Mr. Sircar pointed out that, in the Bill’s latest version, the government was destroying the watchdog body — the Data Protection Board — by packing it with its own men, rather than those drawn from the judiciary and independent experts. 

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