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JPC given extension till winter session for presenting report on Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, new Chair appointed

The PDP Bill was first drafted by the Justice Srikrishna committee in 2018 but it has been under review by a Joint Parliamentary Committee for nearly three years.

The Lok Sabha on Friday approved a motion to extend the time given to the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to present its report on the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill, 2019. The committee has now been given time till the Winter Session 2021.

The motion for extension was submitted by Bharatiya Janata Party MP PP Chaudhary, the newly appointed Chairperson of the JPC, and Lok Sabha MP Bhartruhari Mahtab.

This news comes despite Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla saying on July 13 that the JPC will not get any extensions to submit its report. “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 reportedly said. These comments were made even though the PDP Bill wasn’t in the bulletin issued by the Lok Sabha.

Earlier this year during the Budget Session, the JPC had sought an extension until the current Monsoon Session to submit its report. The bill was first introduced in the Winter Session of 2019.

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Why it matters? Since the Puttaswamy judgement in 2017 at 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 industry 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 pending PDP Bill has become even more relevant amidst the Pegasus Project revelations, which alleges that the government might have been targetting journalists, activists, opposition politicians among others, for surveillance

Read: A Complete Guide To The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019

PDP Bill report submitted to the speaker: Meenakshi Lekhi

Strangely, the former chairperson of the JPC, BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi, said yesterday that the report on the PDP Bill has been submitted to the speaker. 

Here is what she said in a press conference

“There is a Joint Parliamentary Committee, which I was chairing, a task assigned to me by the Hon’ble speaker. All the members of the opposition worked on it in a most transparent manner. The report was ready but the whole country was moving from one crisis to another, specially in view of corona, elections, parliamentary session, reshuffle. All those things led to the report not being brought before the parliament for adoption. But that report is submitted to the speaker. And data protection is going to become the law of the land.” – Meenakshi Lekhi (emphasis ours)

If the report is ready as per Lekhi’s statements, it is not clear why it could not be presented in this session. Following Lekhi’s comments, Congress MP Manish Tewari tweeted asking how Lekhi can claim the report has been submitted to the speaker when it has not been circulated to the members.

 

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: The committee has once more been given an extension

Members of JPC

Five members of the JPC have become ministers — Meenakashi Lekhi, Ajay Bhatt, Bhupender Yadav, Ashwini Vaishnaw, and Rajeev Chandrasekhar. Lekhi was the chair of the committee. On top of the vacant seat that was already there in the committee, these members’ seats on the JPC now stand empty as well.

The current constitution of the JPC is:

Lok Sabha

  1. Meenakashi Lekhi (former Chair)
  2. SS Ahluwalia
  3. Ajay Bhatt (to be replaced)
  4. PP Chaudhary (New Chair)
  5. Arvind Dharmapuri
  6. Dr. Heena Vijaykumar Gavit
  7. Gaurav Gogoi
  8. Dr. Sanjay Jaiswal
  9. Bhartruhari Mahtab
  10. Mahua Moitra
  11. Ritesh Pandey
  12. Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore
  13. Midhun Reddy
  14. Dr. Shrikant Eknath Shinde
  15. Rajiv Ranjan (Lalan) Singh
  16. Uday Pratap Singh
  17. Dr. (Prof.) Kirit Premjibhai Solanki
  18. LS Tejasvi Surya
  19. Manish Tewari

Rajya Sabha

  1. Rajeev Chandrasekhar (to be replaced)
  2. A. Navaneethakrishnan
  3. Derek O’ Brien
  4. Dr. Amar Patnaik
  5. Suresh Prabhu
  6. Jairam Ramesh
  7. Vivek K. Tankha
  8. Ashwini Vaishnaw (to be replaced)
  9. Bhupender Yadav (to be replaced)

Past members of the JPC include:

  1. Ram Gopal Yadav
  2. S. Jothi Mani
  3. Prof. Saugata Roy
  4. Kanimozhi

Updated (23 July, 1:52 pm): Added Meenakshi Lekhi’s comments from yesterday.

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