The 2016 winter session of Parliament saw the worst disruption this year despite demonetisation providing an opportunity for members of both houses to discuss the issue threadbare. The session was also a washout for bills as only a few were taken up; the all important one on the Goods and Services Tax was not among them.
The passing of The Constitution (122nd Amendment) (GST) Bill, 2014 was the most important business of this winter session. This bill seeks to reduce the multiplicity in the tax structure and make India a single market by subsuming various taxes. It will give concurrent taxing powers to both the Centre and the states.
There is a question mark hanging over the April 1 roll-out deadline for the GST. The GST council, in charge of hammering out the details of implementation, failed to finalise the draft legislation, and three key supporting bills are likely to be tabled only in the budget session of Parliament early next year. The GST is a singular tax reform that will remove barriers across states and integrate the country into a common market. The council’s next meeting will take place on 23 December, when the controversial IGST (Integrated Goods and Services Tax) Bill, which deals with the contentious issue of sharing of administrative powers between the Centre and the states, will again come up.
Among the bills that were scheduled to be taken up were:
The Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013
This bill mandates the process of offering a bribe as an offence, and thereby modifies the definition of accepting bribes. The amendment bill demands prior sanction to prosecute former officials.
The Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015
This all important piece of legislation would have provided cover to whistle blowers. Under this, disclosures related to corruption may not be made. The bill is currently pending in the Rajya Sabha.
The Consumer Protection Bill, 2015
This bill replaces the 1986 act and provides compensation for consumers’ complaints, recall of goods, action against misleading advertisements and product liability claims.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016
It proposes that illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan from specified religious groups, such as Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian, be eligible to apply for Indian citizenship.
The Employee's Compensation Amendment Bill, 2016
The bill asks an employer to inform the employee of his right to compensation under the 1923 Act and imposes a penalty for the failure to do so. Though the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on August 9, 2016, it is still pending in the Rajya Sabha.
Factories Amendment Bill, 2016
This bill has to do with improving the limit of overtime working hours and empowering the Central government to make exemptions. Like the Employee’s Compensation Amendment Bill, it is pending in the Rajya Sabha.
The Maternity Benefits Amendment Bill, 2016
Increases maternity leave to 26 weeks, grants leave to mothers and requires establishments with 50 employees or more to provide crèches. It was passed by the Rajya Sabha on August 11, 2016, and is pending before the Lok Sabha.
The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016
This bill has to do with the property of those who migrated to Pakistan, which has been classified as enemy property. It overlooks the power of all rights, titles and interests over enemy property in an office of the Central government. The Rajya Sabha Select Committee report on it was submitted on May 6, 2016, and is pending before the upper house.
The Mental Health Care Bill, 2013
Passed by the Rajya Sabha on August 8, 2016 and pending in the Lok Sabha, this bill replaces the Mental Health Act of 1987. The act protects the rights of persons with mental illness and promotes their access to mental healthcare. Introduced on August 19, 2013, the Rajya Sabha Standing Committee report on it was submitted on November 20 of the same year. It is yet to be taken up in the house.
The new bills listed for introduction were: The Payment of Bonus (Amendment) Bill, 2015; The Industries (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015; The Agricultural Bio-Security Bill, 2015; The National Cooperative Development Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2015; The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2015; The Regional Centre for Bio-technology Bill, 2015; and The Indian Institute of Management Bill, 2015.