The truncated monsoon session of the Parliament concluded yesterday, cut short due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Although the session ran for only 10 days, it was the most productive session ever, with the Lok Sabha achieving a productivity rate of 167%. The session ran from 14th September to 23rd September continuously, without any weekend holidays on Saturday and Sunday. A total of 25 bills were passed during this session, some of which are very significant bills. Let’s have a look at the 25 bills briefly.
14 September 2020
The National Commission for Homoeopathy Bill
Introduced by the AYUSH ministry last year, this bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha in March this year. The bill has repealed the Homoeopathy Central Council Act, 1973 and a National Commission for Homoeopathy will be set up under it. The Commission for Homoeopathy will consist of 20 members which will include a Chairperson, the President of the Homoeopathy Education Board, the Director General of National Institute of Homoeopathy, the President of the Medical Assessment and Rating Board for Homoeopathy in addition to other members. The Bill seeks to provide for a medical education system which ensures availability of adequate and high quality homoeopathic medical professionals, adoption of the latest medical research by homoeopathic medical professionals, periodic assessment of medical institutions, and an effective grievance redressal mechanism.
The National Commission for Homoeopathy will frame policies for regulating medical institutions and homoeopathic medical professionals, assess the requirements in the sector, ensure compliance of regulations by the State Medical Councils of Homoeopathy, and ensure coordination among the autonomous boards set up under the Act.
Under the Act, a uniform National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test will be held for admissions to undergraduate courses in all medical institutions regulated by the Act. Moreover, there will be a National Teachers’ Eligibility Test for postgraduates who wish to take up teaching in Homoeopathy.
The National Commission for Indian System of Medicine Bill
This bill was also passed by the Upper House in March, which was approved by the Lok Sabha on September 14. This bill repeals the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970, and provides for the establishment of the National Commission for Indian System of Medicine (NCISM). The objective of the bill is to ensure adequate and high quality medical professionals of Indian System of Medicine, adoption of the latest medical research by medical professionals of Indian System of Medicine, periodic assessment of medical institutions, and an effective grievance redressal mechanism.
The NCISM set up under this Act will have 29 members, which will consist of the Chairperson, President of the Board of Ayurveda, President of the Board of Unani, Siddha, and Sowa-Rigpa, President of the Medical Assessment and Rating Board for Indian System of Medicine, apart from officials from the Ayush Ministry and members elected by the medical practitioners of Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, and Sowa-Rigpa from among themselves.
Apart from the NCISM, State Medical Councils for Indian System of Medicine will be established at each state under the act. The Act also provides for a uniform National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test for admission to under-graduate courses in each of the disciplines of the Indian System of Medicine in all medical institutions regulated by the Bill. Moreover, there will be a National Teachers’ Eligibility Test for postgraduates who wish to take up teaching in these disciplines.
15 September 2020
Salary, Allowances and Pension Of Members Of Parliament (Amendment) Bill
This bill was passed to replace the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Ordinance issued in April this year by the union govt. The ordinance was promulgated to reduce the salaries and allowances of the MPs in the wake of Coronavirus pandemic. The bill gives parliamentary approval to those changes. It reduces the salaries of MPs by 30%. The bill further reduces constituency allowance and office expenses allowance of MPs. These changes are effective for one year starting from 1st April.
16 September 2020
The Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill
The bill was passed to bring cooperative banks under the supervision of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) by amending the Banking Regulation Act, 1949. The bill replaced the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 which was promulgated in June this year. After the bill was passed, now the regulations and provisions applicable to banking companies will also apply to cooperative banks.
The Act ensures that cooperative banks are equally subject to better governance and sound banking regulations through the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). The cooperative banks will also be able to raise money via public issues and private placements of equity or preference shares as well as unsecured debentures, with the approval of RBI.
With the amendment, RBI will also be able to undertake a scheme of amalgamation of a bank without placing it under moratorium.
The bill is applicable to Primary Agricultural Credit Societies and co-operative societies whose principal business is long term financing for agricultural development.
17 September 2020
The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill
One of the major bills passed in the monsoon session, this bill allows intra-state and inter-state trade of farm products beyond the physical premises of APMC markets. This is intended to create a new ecosystem where farmers and traders will enjoy freedom of choice of sale and purchase of farm products. While the APMCs will continue to exist, they are not being abolished as fake news spread by the opposition, there will be freedom to trade at farmgate, cold storage, warehouse, food processing units etc.
The system of govt purchase at Minimum Support Price will also continue, but now the farmers will have the option of selling at MSP to govt agencies or to sell in the open market. The bill also proposes an electronic trading platform for farm products to ensure seamless trade electronically.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill
Another landmark bill, this amendment relates to contact farming. The bill empowers farmers for engaging with processors, wholesalers, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers, exporters etc., on a level playing field. The farmers will have assured price of their produce even before sowing, thereby transferring the market risk from the farmer to the buyer. If the market price becomes more than the contact price, farmers will be entitled to the market price.
This will also enable farmers to access modern technology, high quality seed and other inputs like fertilisers and pesticides. The provisions of the bill will reduce the cost of marketing, and enhance the income of the farmers, as the buyer will have to directly pick up the produce from the farms. This will enable private investment in farming sector, and will link the farms with global markets.
The bill also has provisions for effective dispute resolution mechanism, so the farmers will not have to courts for any dispute. Moreover, 10000 Farmer Producer organizations are being formed throughout the country. These FPOs will bring together small farmers and work to ensure remunerative pricing for farm produce
18 September 2020
The Appropriation (No.3) Bill and The Appropriation (No.4) Bill
The two appropriation bills were passed by the Lok Sabha on Supplementary Demands for Grants for 2020-21 and Demands for Excess Grants for 2016-17. The Appropriation (No 4) Bill, 2020 authorises payment and appropriation of further amounts out of the Consolidated Fund of India for services of the financial year 2020-2021. On the other hand, the Appropriation (No 3) Bill, 2020 provides for authorisation of appropriation of money out of the Consolidated Fund of India to meet the amounts spent on certain services during the financial year ended 2016-2017.
An Appropriation Bill is a money bill that allows the government to withdraw funds from the Consolidated Fund of India to meet its expenses. As per article 114 of the constitution, govt can withdraw money from the Consolidated Fund of India only after receiving approval from the parliament.
19 September 2020
The Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill
This bill provides various reliefs in terms of compliance requirements for taxpayers amid the coronavirus pandemic. The bill replaces the ordinance issued in this regard earlier, which makes some changes to the direct and indirect tax laws. The bill extended the deadline to file Income Tax returns, and for linking PAN with Aadhaar.
It also grants tax benefit for donations made to the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund), which was set up in March amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
The bill also makes faceless assessment applicable to at least eight processes under the I-T Act, including collection and recovery of tax and gathering of information.
The Companies (Amendment) Bill
This amendment made changes to several sections of the Companies Act, 2013 by decriminalizing various non-compoundable offences in case of defaults, except frauds. The bill also removes imprisonment for various offences which are considered procedural and technical in nature. For example, it removes the imprisonment of three years applicable to a company for buying back its shares without complying with the Act.
The bill further reduced the fine amount applicable for certain offences. For example, the maximum fine for failure to file annual return with the Registrar of Companies has been reduced from five lakh rupees to two lakh rupees.
The bill provides several other exemptions to several categories of companies.
20 September 2020
The National Forensic Sciences University Bill
The National Forensic Sciences University Bill seeks to establish the National Forensic Sciences University as an institute of national importance. The proposed university would facilitate and promote studies and research and help achieve excellence in the field of forensic science in conjunction with applied behavioural science studies, law, criminology and other allied areas.
Under this Act, Gujarat Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar and Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Sciences, New Delhi will be merged to form the National Forensic Sciences University. The newly formed university will have its campuses both in Gujarat and Delhi.
The Rashtriya Raksha University Bill
Under this bill, the Raksha Shakti University, Gujarat will be upgraded to Rashtriya Raksha University. The university will be an institution of national importance.
The Rashtriya Raksha University is proposed to be a multi-disciplinary university to create new knowledge through research and collaboration with different stakeholders and help to fulfil the need for a pool of trained professionals with specialized knowledge and new skill sets in various wings of policing, the criminal justice system and correctional administration.
The objectives of the university include providing dynamic and high standards of learning and research and providing a working environment dedicated to advancing research, education and training in the domain of policing. The university will have linkage with world-class universities in other countries for exchange of contemporary research, academic collaboration, course design, technical know-how, training and skill development.
The Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill
Similar to the other bill on salaries and allowances of MPs, this bill also reduces salaries and allowances of minister by 30% for a year.
The Bilateral Netting of Qualified Financial Contracts Bill
This bill allows for enforcement of netting for qualified financial contracts. Bilateral netting refers to offsetting claims arising from dealings between two parties to determine the net amount payable or receivable from one party to the other.
Under the bill, a qualified financial contract (QFC) is a bilateral contract notified as a QFC by a relevant authority such as the Reserve Bank of India, Securities and Exchange Board of India, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India, Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority or International Financial Services Centres Authority. These authorities may designate entities, such as NBFCs or insurance or pension firms functioning under its jurisdiction, as qualified financial market participants to deal in QFCs.
The bill provides the enforcement of netting of QFCs if the contract has a netting agreement. The bill will reduce the net exposure and reduce the credit exposure of banks and other financial institutions, and will result in financial savings for the financial system.
21 September 2020
The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill
This bill amends the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, which regulates the acceptance and utilisation of foreign contribution or donation by individuals, associations and companies, mostly non-profit organisations. The amendment has been brought in an effort to ensure transparency in foreign funding received by NGOs.
The bill provides for reduction in administrative expenses of any NGO receiving foreign funding, from 50 per cent to 20 per cent of annual funds to ensure spending on their main objectives. The bill also bars public servants from receiving foreign fund. The bill further says that organisations will be able to receive foreign funding only at a designated FCRA bank account in the State Bank of India in Delhi. From this account, they will be able to transfer the money to their other accounts. The concerned SBI branch in Delhi will report to the Home Minister about the source of funds, manner of reception, and the permitted limit of foreign remittance.
The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Second Amendment) Bill
The bill amends the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 which provides a time bound process for resolving insolvency in companies and also among individuals. It replaces the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 promulgated in June this year in an effort to give relief to companies facing the heat due to Coronavirus pandemic.
The Bill seeks to temporarily suspend initiation of the corporate insolvency resolution process (CIRP) under the Code. When a default occurs, the Code allows the creditors of the company or the company itself to initiate CIRP by filing an application before the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT). The Bill provides that for defaults arising during the six months from March 25, 2020, CIRP cannot be initiated by either the company or its creditors.
This amendment was brought due to the Covid-19 situation to give the immunity to the business from insolvency proceedings in this critical situation.
The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill
The bill amends the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to include protections for health care service personnel combating epidemic diseases and expands the powers of the Central Government to prevent the spread of such diseases. The bill repeals the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance that was promulgated in April this year after the Coronavirus pandemic broke out in the country.
The Act makes harm, injury, hurt or danger to the life of healthcare service personnel as a cognizable and non-bailable offence. Apart from imprisonment from three months to five years fine between Rs 50000 to Rs 2 lakh and, persons convicted of offences under the bill will also be liable to pay compensation to the healthcare service personnel whom they have hurt.
The Factoring Regulation (Amendment) Bill
This Bill amends the Factoring Regulation Act, 2011 to widen the scope of entities which can engage in factoring business. Factoring business is a business where an entity (referred as factor) acquires the receivables of another entity (referred as assignor) for an amount. Factor can be a bank, a registered non-banking financial company or any company registered under the Companies Act.
The Bill amends the definition of the assignment to add that a transfer can be in whole or in part. It also amends the definition of factoring as acquisition of receivables of an assignor by assignment for a consideration.
The amendments are expected to help micro, small and medium enterprises significantly by providing added avenues for getting credit facility, especially through Trade Receivables Discounting System. This will lead to increase in the availability of working capital of such enterprises.
22 September 2020
The Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Bill
The Bill replaces the Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 which was promulgated on April 24, 2020. It seeks to further extend the time to form the Central Council of Homeopathy by a year, after two years allowed for the purpose was over.
The Homoeopathy Central Council Act, 1973 was amended in 2018 to provide for the supersession of the Central Council of Homoeopathy. The Central Council was required to be reconstituted within one year from the date of its supersession. In 2019 it was amended requiring the reconstitution withing two years. Now that suppression period has been extended to three years.
The Indian Medicine Central Council (Amendment) Bill
This bill seeks a year’s time to reconstitute the Indian Medicine Central Council and provides for a board of directors to exercise its powers in the interim period. The bill amends the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970, which provides for the constitution of a Central Council which regulates the education and practice of the Indian medicine system including Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy.
It provides that the Central Council will stand superseded from April this year and the council will be reconstituted within one year from the date of its supersession. In the interim period, the Central Government will constitute a Board of Governors, which will exercise the powers of the Central Council. The board will consist of up to ten members.
The Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill
the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill, 2020 passed by the parliament adds Kashmiri, Dogri and Hindi to the list official languages of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Before this, only Urdu and English were official languages of the former state.
Replying to a debate on the Bill, Minister of State for Home G Kishan Reddy said it was a long-standing demand of the people of Jammu and Kashmir that the language they speak should be included in the list of official languages. He pointed out that around 74 per cent people in the Union Territory spoke Kashmiri and Dogri languages. According to 2011 census, only 0.16 per cent population in Jammu and Kashmir spoke Urdu, while 2.3 per cent spoke Hindi.
The Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code
This code consolidates 13 existing Acts regulating health, safety, and working conditions. These include the Factories Act, 1948, the Mines Act, 1952, and the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970.
The Code will apply to establishments employing at least 10 workers. It will apply to all mines, docks, and establishments carrying out any hazardous or life-threatening activity, regardless of number of workers. Certain provisions of the Code, such as health and working conditions, apply to all employees. Employees include workers and all other persons earning wages for any work, including managerial, administrative, or supervisory work.
The Industrial Relations Code
The Industrial Relations Code seeks to replace three specific labour laws, The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, The Trade Unions Act, 1926, and The Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946.
The Code provides for a negotiation union in an industrial establishment, having registered trade unions, for negotiating with the employer. If there is only one trade union in an industrial establishment, the employer is required to recognise such trade union as the sole negotiating union of the workers. In case of multiple trade unions, the trade union with support of at least 51% of workers on the muster roll of that establishment will be recognised as the sole negotiating union by the employer.
The Code prohibits employers, workers, and trade unions from committing any unfair labour practices listed in a Schedule to the Code. The unfair trade practices include restricting workers from forming trade unions, establishing employer sponsored trade union of workers, coercing workers to join trade unions, damage to employer’s property, and preventing any worker from attending work. Violation of these norms will be punishable with fine between Rs 10000 and Rs 2 lakh.
The Code on Social Security
The Social Security Code 2020 replaces nine laws related to social security, which are The Employees Compensation Act, 1923, The Employees State Insurance Act, 1948, The Employees Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952, The Employees Exchange (Compulsory Notification of Vacancies) Act, 1959, The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972, The Cine Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1981, The Building and Other Construction Workers Cess Act, 1996, and The Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008.
The code provides for setting up of a social security fund, or funds, to provide welfare benefits like pension, medical cover, and health and death and disability benefits to all workers. Workers in the unorganised sector, such as migrant workers, gig workers and platform workers will also be covered under it.
It also provides for filing of a single return, electronically or otherwise, by the employer and to make Aadhaar mandatory for registration of a member/beneficiary/ any other person to register or for receiving benefit.
The Major Port Authorities Bill
This bill aims at decentralizing decision making and to infuse professionalism in governance of major ports. The Bill seeks to provide for regulation, operation and planning of major ports in India and provide greater autonomy to these ports. It replaces the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963.
The bill will apply to 12 major ports in the country, located at Chennai, Cochin, Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Kandla, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Mangalore, Mormugao, Paradip, V.O. Chidambaranar, and Vishakhapatnam. Under this bill, a Board of Major Port Authority will be set up for each major port. These Boards will replace the existing Port Trusts in those ports.
The Board will be able to use its property, assets and funds as deemed fit for the development of the major port. The bill is expected to help impart faster and transparent decision making benefiting the stakeholders and better project execution capability.