The lifeline of the world’s largest democracy is a strong opposition which has been vested with the duty to keep a check on the power of the ruling party and plays a vital role in maintaining balance and keeping in consideration of interests of people when power overwhelms the ruling party and in the mayhem, their focus is not on the primary goal of public welfare but to further their interests. But as the current situation shows the ruling government after coming into power with a thumping majority has less to worry about the opposition putting obstacles in their way when they try to pass any law. It is essential to understand that the law-making power has been vested in the representatives of people so that they can decide and act for the welfare of people because a common man lacks the faculties which help in determining what is best for them and to make laws which will further their interests, so they have given this power to their chosen representatives to act on their behalf. Still, the democracy in India has already suffered a significant blow due to the selfish nature of politicians where they put their interests first, and growing body of lobbyists and corporate participation in influencing the law-making makes us believe that the government is diverting its attention from the main objectives.
In its term as the ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party has passed many legislations that have caused a great uproar in the masses, and some of them have been welcomed with great drama with mass protests on the streets and even use of violence to stop the government from passing such laws. While the government, when passing such laws, cites public welfare as their main and primary objective for passing such laws, it is only opposition. People who are likely to be affected by such laws can tell what impact these laws will have on their life and to showcase such some of the rules have met with disagreement and vehement opposition. It is noteworthy that notwithstanding the conflict and antagonism of laws from both the masses and the opposition party, the ruling government gets its way around things so quickly. It is also essential to understand that while some of these legislations have genuinely shaken the pillars of democracy to its core, it is also vital to realise that sometimes we need to swallow a bitter pill to get better. But we will only know which of these legislations were the bitter pills and which ones we did not need after we understand the objective behind the passing of such law and what goals the legislations seek to achieve.
The list is not exhaustive, but some of the legislation which has made headlines are mentioned in this list:
1. Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA):
Citizenship Amendment Act passed in December 2019 amidst great hue and cry was welcomed by people with significant opposition and mass protests across the country which later reached a global level as well. CAA saw such opposition that not only the Indians in the Indian subcontinent but Indians residing in other countries as well vehemently criticised the passing of the Act. This Act sought to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 and in a first of its kind attempt to involve religion as a criterion to decide the matters of refuge and nationality. The government clarified that the law was passed under the aegis of the Home Ministry to give shelter to people belonging to certain religions in particular countries who have been subjected to religious persecution. The Act sought to provide citizenship to religious minorities namely Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain, and Parsi, etc., in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who faced religious persecution at the hands of people belonging to particular religions forming a majority. The law saw significant criticism due to the selective approach taken by the government in spreading its hands to help the wronged communities. The exclusion of various minority sects in Islam in Pakistan who have suffered religious persecution at the hands of majority sects and different minority non-Hindu minority communities in Afghanistan and Bangladesh who have also been left out of the purview of the CAA, clearly shows how the government of India while extending the helping hand blatantly violated the principle of equality before the law and equal protection of the law. Apart from giving legitimacy to settlers in India, this Act casts a shadow on the secular ideology of India as mandated by the Constitution, which holds the supreme position even above the government of India.
2. Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Act, 2019:
In a novel attempt to reduce road accidents and ensure strict compliance with traffic rules. However, this novel attempt caused significant hue and cry amongst people because of the harsh punishments and hefty fines. Hefty fines, even for a small violation, acted like a cruel joke. The deterrent theory of criminal law posits that severe penalties and hefty fines imposed on people act as a deterrent to crimes and people learn to be careful, thereby using this logic, the amendment sought to make people more responsible on the road. However, the government presumed that accidents happen only because drivers or riders act recklessly; thus, the imposition of fines and hard punishment would stop them from driving carelessly. Still, they forgot to realise that other external factors such as the deplorable conditions of roads, crowded streets, stray animals and sometimes the state of the vehicle also play a major role in accidents. It is not hidden that the roads in major cities become swimming pools and even rail systems suffer due to the constant heavy rains, thus in such cases, people cannot be expected to pay hefty fines for minor traffic violations such as riding without a helmet, etc. No matter how draconian this law may seem, we can say that imposing fines and stiff punishments do work effectively.
3. Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019:
This law does not require any introduction. Scraping for Article 370 superseding the Presidential Order of 1954 which gave Jammu & Kashmir the special status which they held until the Modi government decided to amend the Constitution of India and scrape off article 370. This special status was accorded to J&K when Pakistan attacked them after India got its independence. In lieu of agreeing to help protect the princely state, the then Indian government signed a pact with the ruler of J&K and J&K was merged in Indian territory but with a special status which put forth many conditions such as Indian laws did not extend to the territory of J&K. Indian government emerged victorious when J&K was stripped of its special status. Still, the manner used to achieve this new feat, attracted too much criticism not only from liberals in India but also at global level people disagreed with the use of force such as even at UN various nations questioned Indian government’s actions on the grounds of flagrant human rights violations in J&K. J&K even though it has been a year since the reorganisation, does not have the same conditions as other states in India. However, the government cited that industrialisation and development as the reasons for the passing of the amendment Act. It is vital to remember that the arbitrary use of power to take away the fundamental rights of people such as freedom of speech and expressions is curtailed due to heavy censorship of media and taking out the internet. For that matter, even telecom services are not acceptable and totally against the spirit of the Indian constitution. Not only the freedom of speech was effected, but this sudden change of status also had a significant impact on school education and the primary livelihood of people. The use of heavy-armed forces and continuous curfew and constant unrest due to rising militancy affects the common people to a very high level. This amendment has the effect of reorganising the particular state of J&K into two Union Territories viz. the eponymous union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and that of Ladakh. While it provisions for J&K to have a legislative assembly, it states that Ladakh will be administered by only a Lieutenant Governor. As per this law, the new union territory of Ladakh comprises of the districts of Kargil and Leh, whereas all the remaining districts come under the jurisdiction of the UT of J&K. Of the six Lok Sabha seats assigned to the former state of J&K, one will be assigned to Ladakh. Five will be accorded to the UT of J&K. The law also declared that the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir would function as the High Court for both the union territories. This issue remained a major tool for politics for Pakistan and China at the UN and European Union interfered as well.
4. Farmers Bills:
Very recently government passed three Farmers‘ Bills which received broad opposition not only in the Parliament where several members of parliament received a suspension for opposing the bills, and the alliances seem to be breaking apart due to the impact these laws are going to have on the farmers in India. The bills saw mass protests with farmers and politicians burning tractors and private property and even launching rail roko Andolan as well. Looking at the magnitude of protests out on the streets we can infer that these laws have the effect of affecting the farmers negatively to a great extent and even though the Modi government is using all tricks in their bag to make people believe that these bills are for farmers’ benefits. It will allow them to sell their products anywhere in the country, bringing agriculture produce market of the country together. Still, the farmers argue that it will affect them negatively as first of all they are worried about the removal of ‘minimum support price’ which gives the security to the farmers and protects them from getting abused at the hands of private buyers, another point that farmers are worried about is the entry of private corporations in the agriculture market and the fear of them overpowering the poor farmers. As the private players will have the upper hand not only because of education and availability of resources whereas farmers will be at a disadvantage. Members of parliament have also asked for setting up of a committee of members in parliament to look into the matter and to give recommendations. This bill is essential considering that the Indian economy is agrarian in nature and also because of the extended lockdown and otherwise falling economy, farmers are also suffering besides the climate change and environmental issues affecting their lives. When the people are already questioning the government for mishandling of the COVID-19 situation, it is all the more important to ask questions and seek answers when the government passes such bills that affect the building block of the Indian economy.
These bills were passed together namely, The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020; The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020.
5. The Aadhaar and Other Laws Amendment Act, 2019:
This amendment sought to make it voluntary for the Aadhaar holder to allow usage of Aadhaar to verify its details. Still, at the same time, the law states that when the government asks you for your Aadhaar details such as card number or biometrics, then, in that case, you can’t refuse to give your details. The amendment also led to telecom companies linking their mobile numbers to holders’ Aadhaar and similarly several payment applications also making it mandatory for the users to link their Aadhaar number to the application. At the same time, the said acquisition of the data by the private entities was barred by the Supreme Court ruling. This does not end here, refusing to provide Aadhaar details led to various companies refusing to entertain the users and in addition to that denying admission in schools or denying health care facilities on the ground of refusal of submission of Aadhaar details not only is arbitrary and baseless, but it also violates the basic fundamental rights of persons namely right to education emanating from Article 21 of Constitution of India and right to access to health care which also finds its roots in Article 21 where life is not mere animal existence, but it also keeps right to live with dignity and personal liberty in its reach. It is no doubt that Aadhaar was supposed to be a beneficial scheme intended to bring the data of people within the governments reach so the benefits could reach to people easily and on time. Still, it is essential to understand that when the government collects peoples data, it is responsible for keeping it safe and using it only for the purposes it is was given for and with the consent of the person. It is undeniable that there have been instances where the government has used the data without a person’s consent, and such invasion of privacy by the government is not acceptable and is violative of the spirit of the Constitution of India embodied under Article 21.
6. Transgender Person’s (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019:
Why would transgender people oppose a bill which is supposed to protect them?
This is a critical question; it is logical to ask why people oppose laws which allegedly seek to protect or help them. The only answer to this question could be that in the eyes of the lawmaker, the passed law has the effect of achieving the goals that they have set. However, the reality is quite different from what we wish, or we want it to be. The much opposed Trans Bill as the government advertises intended to give the trans persons their rights and protection and allegedly recognise them as a community working towards their upliftment however the actual effect of the law on trans community is quite different from what is presented to us. In the beginning, when the bill was tabled at Rajya Sabha, it was suggested to refer the bill to a select committee to fill the holes and gaps in the bill. However, the result has not been satisfactory, and people from the trans community have been protesting ever since the bill had been passed in 2019. The main feature of democracy is participation from people in many ways such as indirectly through their representatives and directly as well when the Bills passed by the Parliament are put for public opinion. The trans community says that a law which alleges to give them protection was passed without any participation from the people of the city. It is the basic idea that the needs and requirements of the community are best known to the people of the community. Their participation is a must and considering the taboos and discrimination that the trans community faces in India even in 21st century, it is far fetched to see any representation from the trans community, and when such community is under-represented in the law-making scheme, it is all the more critical that steps are taken to include them in the law-making process which affects them directly.
The bill seeks to end the discrimination faced by the trans community and make access to facilities such as employment, health care, and education easier to them, however, to be recognised as a trans person you cannot merely declare to be either trans woman or trans man, you will require the District Magistrate to give you a certificate of your identity, then only you will be able to access the above-mentioned facilities, and this seems to have become a significant bone of contention. Now the main issue why this certificate is problematic is the way you will get this certificate, as the law says the requirement to obtain the certificate is to show the proof of sex reassignment surgery. Not only is it impossible for many of the trans people to get the surgery because of lack of funds as we all know that due to the stigma attached to the trans community there are not only social restrictions, but they are also not financially independent and stable due to rampant unemployment and lack of opportunities that fit their need or which accepts them just like any other human being. One more issue is that not all trans persons wish to get the surgery, and in that case, what is to happen to their certification.
The bill blatantly violates numerous fundamental rights and basic human rights of the trans persons under the garb of protection. It violates their right to privacy when the certification is to be done by the District Magistrate because there is no manner which is expressly stated in the law for the examination of the trans person when they want to obtain their certificate. It is evident not only from many cases as we see where trans persons are physically abused by people such as police officials and other public servants but also from many movies and TV shows which are a clear reflection of the society. Trans community in India has been arbitrarily classified as hijras who dance in trains or busses or roads or weddings for money. Brutally harassing trans persons only for them being different from what we are used to seeing is morally incorrect but imposing such conditions under the garb of protection which has the ultimate effect of taking away their fundamental right to life and personal liberty which embodies right to live with dignity as its essential part, due to identity and having the freedom to identify yourself as a particular person also flows from right to life and as held in the case of NALSA right to identity was a fundamental right and mandate of sex reassignment surgery was not a prerequisite to identify yourself as a trans person. Hence the law is violative of many fundamental rights, and it is outrightly against the trans community. It is easily understandable as to why the trans people are fighting so hard against this law.
7. Right to Information Amendment Bill, 2019:
After the bill was passed, the opposition outrightly termed it ‘dangerous’. The bill comes in the backdrop of CIC, which is the Central Information Commission established under the RTI Act, 2015, when CIC ordered some information to be collected requested by the applicant. Right to Information is an important right in a democratic government set up where people want and need to be informed of certain things. It leaves public authorities open to disclose information to people whenever requested. The applicants had sought to get information on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s graduation degree and hence acting on this application information commissioner had allowed inspection of records of Delhi University of the class of 1978. And another incident where information was requested on non- performing assets in public sector banks. In the second scenario, the applicant was denied knowledge by RBI where followed by this refusal; the applicant moved to the Supreme Court, which directed RBI to disclose this information.
The new amendment bill seeks to amend the Act, and the government states that these amendments are aimed to remove the fundamental flaws which were present in the parent act passed by then UPA government. The amendment seeks to amend specific provisions relating to the Central Information Commission, from the tenure of information commissioners to their salaries.
We must note that the posts of information commissioners are also lying vacant which ultimately tinkers with the flow of information and government giving itself rule-making powers under the Act not only interferes with the autonomy and independence of the institution but also denies people the right to information when it is due. It is vital that we question such practices where on the occasion of questions that make the government uncomfortable they just take the opportunity to amend the law to their convenience.
8. Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019:
The personal data protection bill as cleared by the union government in 2019 seeks to uphold the right to privacy to people as regarded as a fundamental right in the KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India by the Supreme Court of India. The bill seeks to protect the privacy and personal data of the people and to establish a Data Protection Authority for this purpose as well. The PDPB inter alia prescribes how personal data is to be collected, processed, used, disclosed, stored, and transferred. The bill also overrides the Information Technology Act, 2005, which allowed payment of compensation to people in case of failure to protect the data of individuals by the companies. But the PDP Bill has removed such a feature. The PDPB proposes to protect “Personal Data” relating to the identity, characteristics trait, attribute of a natural person and “Sensitive Personal Data” such as financial data, health data, official identifier, sex life, sexual orientation, biometric data, genetic data, transgender status, intersex status, caste or tribe, religious or political beliefs.
The bill has made so many changes to the processing, collection and storing of data such as the data will be processed for specific purposes and within the limitations, as prescribed by the bill such as for lawful and clear purpose and collection of data will be limited to data which is required for the purposes. The bill has introduced the concept of consent and notice when it comes to usage of data, such as it requires that information will be given to the individual for collection and processing of the personal data of the individual. The law provides that the data fiduciary will take measures to maintain accountability and transparency when it comes to the handling of data and incorporating safety measures to protect the misuse of data or mishandling of personal data. Such safeguards to protect the personal data and upheld the privacy of individuals are reassuring in the times when even if the person has next to no presence on the internet, you can still find information about that person because the internet does not only have data which we provide but companies also produce and upload the personal information which they have of the individual. The bills give various rights to the data principal such as the right to be notified of the collection and processing of data, the right to stop data from being transferred outside India. The bill also sets out penalties and punishment in case of non-compliance with the provisions of the PDP Bill.
9. Triple Talaq Bill, 2019:
After coming into power, one of the feats for the Modi Government was to pass the Triple Talaq Bill criminalising Triple Talaq after the Supreme Court in its landmark case of Shaira Bano held it to be unconstitutional and against the fabric of constitution of India. There have been several attempts by several governments to bring reforms in personal laws, and some of them have been welcomed happily. In contrast, some of them received widespread hatred with the communities seeing the rules as encroaching upon their personal space and freedom. The triple talaq was against the rights of women and a draconian concept which allowed Muslim men to act on their whims. However, this attempt by Modi government to bring uniformity and to protect Muslim women has attracted significant opposition in the Parliament where it has been termed as an attempt to punish Muslim men. While the government argued saying that the archaic law needed to be removed with changing times and where the government seeks to provide more opportunities to women for their upliftment, removal of this draconian practice was welcomed by thousands of Muslim women.
10. Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) Bill, 2019:
While all the laws mentioned in this list are equally controversial, yet somehow amendment to UAPA is a showstopper. UAPA is anti-terror legislation, and the bill gives National Investigation Agency the power to designate any individual suspected of having terror links as a terrorist. The account also offers NIA the ability to probe cyber crimes and cases of human trafficking having relations with terrorist organisations. From the outside, the bill seems to be ready to launch a full war against terrorism and looks like a law that has the effect of putting all the terrorists behind bars.
The bill saw opposition on the ground that under the guise of preventing terrorism, this bill has the effect of curtailing fundamental rights of the individuals. Under the bill, if NIA suspects you to have terror links, you can kiss your freedom goodbye. Once arrested this bill makes the crime non-bailable. The primary mischief is the unlawful activities, and terrorist activities are different, but this Bill makes no such differentiation. The use of the law under the name of maintaining peace and order, so many arrests have been made, such as in Delhi Riots, so many students were booked under UAPA without even disclosing their offence. The bill acts on the presumption of guilt which is entirely against the concept of the rule of law as adopted by the Indian judicial system where the individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Still, as per this bill, the central government can term any individual a terrorist based on the presumption of links with the terrorist organisation and such outright classification is unconstitutional and has the effect of having dire consequences on the life of the person arrested under the law.
The list of controversial laws passed by the government is unending and many vital laws passed in this year and the previous years could not make a list, not because they were less controversial but because of the lack of space. Many of such laws include the amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, laws brought due to COVID-19.
These laws must be appropriately analysed because the government has been vested with the power of law-making by people. Without a strong opposition or even due to the substantial majority that the ruling party holds in parliament, it is not impossible that many laws having a severe impact on lives of ordinary people are passed under the garb of them being in their interests.