Narendra Modi-led NDA government registered big wins in Parliament on Thursday as it successfully pushed contentious triple talaq bill through Lok Sabha and managed to get RTI bill all the way through Rajya Sabha, despite strong vocal criticism from the Opposition.
The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, which criminalises instant divorce by Muslim men and seeks jail term for the guilty, was the first draft legislation tabled by the Narendra Modi government in this first session after it took the oath of office for a second term in May.
Several opposition parties, like the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the JDU and the DMK, bitterly opposed the bill during the debate in the House and demanded that it be sent to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny.
But the House rejected the demand and the bill was cleared by a division of 302 in favour and 78 against. The Congress, the JDU and the TMC had staged a walkout during the voting.
Intense debate over triple talaq
Opposing the bill, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi asked if the husband is jailed, as the bill proposes, then how will he be able to pay the maintenance to his wife while sitting in the jail. “You want to destroy the institution of marriage and bring the women on the road, he said.
Owaisi said when the Supreme Court has banned instant triple talaq then why does the government want to jail Muslim man.
Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi said the SC had not asked the government to make triple talaq criminal offence. If you want to protect Muslim women who are divorced by their husbands, then you should also give protection to Hindu and Parsi women who are deserted by their husbands, Gaurav Gogoi said.
Congress MP Mohammad Jawed alleged that the government’s intent is not clean and it wants to sideline the Muslim community. I request the minister to send the bill to the Standing Committee for review and think of laws for separated women of all communities and not Muslims alone, he said. He said more number of Hindu women are being divorced as compared to Muslim women.
However, BJP MP Poonam Mahajan argued that prevention is better than cure and the proposed legislation is seeking to do the same. She said the bill is not about the empowerment of women alone but it is also in consonance with the government’s motto of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vishwas aur Sabka Vikas’.
In the end the bill was passed by a voice vote, even as several Opposition parties staged a walkout.
RTI bill passed in Rajya Sabha
Another big win for the Modi government came from Rajya Sabha, where the BJP is still in minority. Despite heavy criticism by the Opposition, the Rajya Sabha approved an amendment to the RTI Act that gave the government powers to decide salary and service terms of the statutory body head and its members. The amendment was passed by a voice vote but not before the high drama and another walkout by the Opposition.
The Opposition claimed that they staged a walkout over intimidation tactics by treasury benches to influence voting on the motion to send the bill to a Select Committee for greater scrutiny. Personnel and Training Minister Jitendra Singh rejected opposition charge of the amendment diluting the RTI provision saying it will institutionalise chief information commission and strengthen the provision.
High drama in Rajya Sabha over RTI bill voting
The voting on the amendment in the RTI bill witnessed a rare drama in Rajya Sabha as confrontation became almost physical.
It started during the voting on the opposition sponsored motion. Ministers and members of treasury benches were seen instructing NDA and other like-minded party members to tick Noes’ on the voting slips.
But when BJP MP CM Ramesh was seen getting vote slips signed by members, angry members of opposition parties led by Congress confronted him with some trying to snatch slips from his hand.
While Deputy Chairman Harivansh asked Ramesh to go back to his seat, the House plunged into turmoil as Congress members Viplove Thakur and others tried to snatch the vote slips from hands of Ramesh and others opposition members rushed into the Well shouting slogans against such strong-arm tactics.
Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the House has witnessed a sample of how 303 seats are won, an apparent reference to BJP winning an absolute majority in the recent Lok Sabha elections. This was strongly countered by treasury benches.
In Parliament, ministers intimidate opposition leaders. This is our charge. Ruling party members get signatures from members who do not understand the process. You want to convert Parliament into a government department, he said.
With treasury benches vociferously protesting, Azad said: You are destroying democracy. We don’t have any faith on you, so we walkout.
Almost the entire opposition walked out of the House, following which a count of the vote on the motion to send the bill to Select Committee was taken with 117 voting against and 75 in favour.
TRS, BJD and YSR-Congress members remained in the House and are said to have voted with the ruling NDA on the motion. Before the vote, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Patel were seen speaking to TRS and BJD members.
With empty opposition benches, the Bill was passed by a voice vote.
What is the RTI amendment bill 2019
The RTI Act, which was passed by Parliament on June 15, 2005 and came into force on October 13, 2005, sets out a regime that allows citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority.
This Act allowed a five-year term or until the age of 65, whichever is earlier. The amendment proposes that the appointment will be for such term as may be prescribed by the central government.
In the original Act, the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) was paid as much as the Chief Election Commissioner and the Information Commissioners were paid as much as Election Commissioners. The amendment provides for salaries to be prescribed by the Centre.
These amendments, critics said, have wide-ranging ramifications as instead of fixing salaries and tenure by law, bureaucrats will decide on a case-by-case basis. This dilutes job security and makes information commissioners vulnerable to whims and fancies of the ruling establishment.