Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha floor leader Derek O’Brien expressed “serious concern” at what he described as the hasty functioning of the parliamentary panel on the Data Protection Bill, 2019, saying “this is not how a Joint Parliamentary Committee functions”, signalling differences in the process to fine-tune India’s first data privacy law.
In a letter to panel chairperson Meenakshi Lekhi, O’Brien argued that more stakeholders should be consulted and said it was difficult for MPs living outside Delhi to attend successive meetings within a week.
“For a Bill that seeks to establish a comprehensive data policy in India, a committee which is simply going through the motions is a grave injustice. This committee has been formed with the mandate of both Houses of Parliament but it is unfortunate that the essence of the JPC is being violated,” O’Brien wrote on November 7. The JPC on the Personal Data Protection Bill, formed December last year with members from LS and RS, has met representatives from Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, telecom service providers Jio and Airtel and some payment service providers like Paytm.
O’Brien wrote: “It is of serious concern that the Committee is considering clause-by-clause consideration of the contents of the Bill before completing its consultations with all stakeholders.” The consideration of clauses of a bill is usually the last stage of discussion in a parliamentary panel before the draft report is finalised. O’Brien suggested, “consumer groups, e-commerce companies, online streaming platforms and aggregators, civil society groups & think-tanks operating in the domain, more legal groups with expertise in the areas of cyber policy, data privacy and data protection” to be invited to depose before the panel.
When contacted, Lekhi said, “It’s almost a year since this JPC was constituted and like all JPCs this is also time bound; this one was given three months. Two extensions have already been sought and taken. It’s a sensitive issue as admitted by Mr O’Brien himself, which needs effective and timely redressal and cannot be hanging fire. So many leaders across party lines including from his own party have been attending the meetings diligently.”
The TMC leader said there have been 18 meetings of the committee over 10 months. “In the first 7 months, the Committee had only 5 meetings. Post that, in only 3 months, we have had 13 more meetings. Now in the middle of a pandemic, the committee is meeting three days a week.”
Lekhi responded: “This seems like a belated realisation from someone who has been absent. Facilities in Delhi are provided for Parliamentary work. He has been attending Parliament even during the pandemic, but cannot find the time to attend committee meetings. Histrionics may work in Rajya Sabha, but committee proceedings are hard work behind closed doors.”