Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh says he will be submitting a dissent note in the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on Personal Data Protection Bill against the clause that gives powers to the Union Government to suspend all or any of the provisions of this Act for Government agencies. Excerpts:
What is happening with the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Personal Data Protection Bill? The committee has been working on the Bill for the past two years.
We are going to adopt the report on November 22. There will be dissent notes, but these will be decent notes. I must compliment Chairman P.P. Chaudhary. He has made every effort to bring together different points of views. He has been very democratic, collegial and consultative. I know there are senior people in this Government who do not want this Bill to come. There is a view in the Government, amongst some Ministers, that this law will add to the cost of compliance.
Will you be moving a dissent note?
Yes. My dissent is fundamentally against Clause 35 and I will also be moving a qualified dissent against Clause 12. Clause 35, I would say, is the basic architectural flaw with the law. It gives sweeping powers to the Government to exempt any agency from the entire Act. The Government should pass a law in Parliament for the exemption for any of its agencies. I moved an amendment in December 2020 seeking this change. But that was not accepted.
The clause as it stands says that the Government has to record the reasons in writing for seeking the exemption. If the reasons have to be recorded in writing, I believe that it should be laid on the table of Parliament. That too was not agreed to, thus the dissent.
Section 12 is the other problematic area. Under this Section, all Government departments which are governed by law such as the Income Tax Department and the Unique Identification Authority of India, will be exempt from purposes of consent. It is extraordinary that the UIDAI is seeking exemption, considering the Justice K.S. Puttuswamy judgment came because of it.
We have come a long way from the Bill when it was introduced in 2019. But I have no doubt in my mind that this will be challenged in the Supreme Court and it will return to Parliament for several revisions.
Secretary-General of Rajya Sabha P.P.K. Ramacharyulu was removed unceremoniously. Your comments.
That is an extraordinary decision, particularly after credit was claimed saying that it is the first time in 70 years an officer of the Rajya Sabha was elevated to the post of Secretary-General. Mr. Ramacharyulu is a very qualified man, he is a Ph.D. from JNU and a thorough professional. This is also, I might say, a rebuff to the Vice-President and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
What are the issues that will dominate the upcoming winter session of Parliament?
Farm laws are an ongoing issue, with no breakthrough in sight. The deterioration of the border situation and the complete confusion that exists vis-a-vis China and the continued unwillingness of the Government to discuss this in any form are also of great concern. Both Houses of Parliament were in session when the Chinese invasion was on in November 1962. If it could be debated back then why not now? The economy will also be in focus, particularly the runaway inflation.
Haven’t the Opposition parties failed to bring the issue of “price rise” to the centre stage?
No. Last session was unusual. I can’t recall any time when the Leader of the Opposition of the Rajya Sabha called a meeting of 14-15 Opposition parties. We met each day to decide the strategy. Of course that was dictated by Pegasus. While it remains an issue, but after the Supreme Court committee, the salience of that issue is different from what it was in the monsoon session. In a couple of days, the Opposition parties will get together to decide the strategy for the upcoming session.
You are the AICC observer for Manipur. What are the Congress’s hopes and expectations for the Assembly elections next year?
In Manipur, we stand a very good chance. In 2017, we were the single largest party; we had 28 MLAs, we could have formed the government if we had three more MLAs. But market forces intervened. In a similar situation, in 2002, we were the single largest party and we formed the government. In 2017 we were the single largest, but Mr. (Amit) Shah and Mr. (Narendra) Modi did not let us form the government.
The Congress is perpetually fire-fighting in the States where it is in power. When will it stop?
We are an open and democratic party where people are free to express their views. We represent India in all its colours. But if you ask me whether the Congress could have more unity, more discipline and more self-control, I can’t disagree. And Congress president Sonia Gandhi has said this repeatedly, I am not really saying anything new here. The Congress is really the only national force that can take on the BJP.
The Trinamool Congress and the AAP may disagree with you about the Congress being the only “national force”.
The Trinamool’s victory in West Bengal was magnificent, no doubt about it. They didn’t defeat the BJP, they destroyed the BJP. Similarly, the DMK is the pre-eminent political force in Tamil Nadu. The Congress also recognises this and it will work to bring these forces together. ‘Anti-BJPism’ is certainly a glue but a stronger glue will be a common programme and that will emerge.