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Parliamentary panel to revisit Personal Data Protection Bill under newly-appointed chairperson

The committee had already submitted its report during the monsoon session of the Parliament.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Personal Data Protection Bill is scheduled to have meetings on September 15 and 16 to discuss new suggestions for the bill made by newly-appointed committee chairperson PP Chaudhary.

The Lok Sabha website listed two meetings, one on September 15, at 3 pm and another on the next day at 11 am. The agenda for both of the meetings read, “Comparison between The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 as introduced in the Parliament, as discussed in the Joint Committee and the suggestions for amendment by the Chairperson, Joint Committee.”

This indicates that Chaudhary has made new recommendations to the bill, which was likely to be tabled in the Winter Session of Parliament. The Hindu reported that Chaudhary has made additional changes which include expanding the scope of Data Protection Authority to cover personal as well as non-personal data. It is important to note that in 2019 a committee was formed to formulate a non-personal data framework.

Since the Puttaswamy judgement in 2017 by the Supreme Court of India, the government has been under an obligation to pass legislation to protect Indians’ personal data. Steps like a data protection regulator, localisation requirements for data, and other aspects of the bill have been closely watched by the private sector for years. Even as uncertainty looms over the current contours of the bill, data breaches continue to be regularly reported, with companies facing little to no consequences for such incidents.

The Hindu report also said that 10 of the 30 members in the committee have moved amendments against the provision of the proposed law that gives power to the Union government to exempt any government agency from the act. Opposition members in the committee told the publication that they will be filing a dissent note regarding the matter.

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Former chairperson had claimed that report was submitted to LS Speaker

The scheduled meeting comes just months after the then-chairperson Meenakshi Lekhi claimed that the committee had submitted its report to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

“There is the Joint Committee on Personal Data, and it was a task assigned to me by the Speaker. All the members of Opposition worked in a transparent manner (in the committee). The report was ready but various things such as coronavirus, elections, cabinet reshuffle led to a delay in its adoption. Now, it has been submitted to the Speaker,” Lekhi, an MP from New Delhi had said.

However, her claims were met with criticism from other members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee such as Manish Tewari who tweeted, “How can @M_Lekhi  claim Personal Data Protection Bill (PDP) Bill report has been submitted to Speaker @ombirlakota when report has not been circulated to members much less adopted.”

No extension to submit report: LS Speaker

Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla had said at the time that the Joint Parliamentary Committee would not get any extensions to submit its report, The Hindu Business Line reported.

Birla had reportedly made the remark at a press conference ahead of the Monsoon Session of Parliament. “Most of the work of the Committee is over. Now, a new chairperson has to be nominated. I hope this will not affect submission of report. No further time will be given,” Birla said.

Timeline of Events

  • July 2018: The PDP Bill is first drafted by an expert committee headed by Justice BN Srikrishna.
  • October 2018: Subsequently, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology says that it will be drafting the bill.
  • December 2019: The bill is referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee and BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi is appointed chairperson.
  • September 2020: The committee requests and obtains an extension of time for the presentation of their report.
  • December 2020: The committee undertakes a clause-by-clause review of the bill.
  • March 2021:  Once again, the committee requests and obtains an extension of time for the presentation of their report.
  • July 2021: Lok Sabha speaker rules out any further extension for submission of the report
  • July 2021: PP Chaudhary is appointed as the new chairperson of the JPC after Meenakshi Lekhi gets appointed as a minister in the Union Cabinet.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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