By Nantoo Banerjee
It is a matter of great concern that the country’s apex legislature, Parliament of India, is finding it increasingly difficult to legislate, if one goes by the outcome of the second part of the less-than-five- week-long budget session, 2018-19, that ended within minutes of its last business day on April 6. The valedictory reference by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan mentioned that ‘due to interruptions and forced adjournments the business of the lower house was disrupted for 127 hours and 45 minutes’ and the house had to work overtime for nine hours and 47 minutes to transact very urgent government businesses. In total, Lok Sabha, where the ruling party combination has a overwhelming majority, sat only for a little over 34 hours. Rajya Sabha managed to sit for 44 hours. Several pending bills could not be introduced for legislation by the respective departmental ministers. The most important of them in terms of social consequence was the anti-trafficking bill. The latter is hanging fire since 2016. The others included the ban on unregulated deposit schemes to protect the interest of depositors. There were several amendment bills to existing laws. The senior union ministers waiting to introduce these bills included Maneka Gandhi, Arun Jaitley, Suresh Prabhu, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Giriraj Singh. There were several other bills pending for consideration and passing, including the one by health minister Jagat Prakash Nadda concerning the medical education system. But, they all had to be held back, thanks to din of protests by opposition MPs.
The saddest part is that the long pending legislative initiative by Women and Child Welfare Minister Maneka Gandhi — The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) bill, 2018 — could not be introduced at all. The bill seeks “to prevent trafficking of persons, especially women and children, and to provide care, protection and rehabilitation to the victims of trafficking, to prosecute offenders and to create a legal, economic and social environment for the victims.” On February 28, the Union Cabinet approved the bill. It was supposed to be introduced in the second half of the budget session that started on March 5. In fact, the bill was drafted two years ago. It proposed several ‘survivor-centric’ approaches, including the creation of a rehabilitation fund, holding time-bound trials and protecting the survivors at the earliest. It also proposed imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh for the guilty. It is a common knowledge that India is a major source, destination and transit country for men women and children subjected to forced labour and human trafficking.
There are around 46 million people enslaved worldwide. Over 18 million live in India, according to the Global Slavery Index, 2016, estimates. The Index was compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, a global organisation seeking to end modern slavery. Almost 20,000 women and children were reportedly victims of human trafficking in India in 2016, a rise of nearly 25 per cent from the previous year. Although India sits on top of the slavery index, it is yet to have a comprehensive anti-trafficking law to tackle the problem. The existing law — The Immoral Trafficking and Prevention Act (ITPA) — deals mostly with commercial sex trafficking or prostitution. Various rights groups have been clamouring for a new law. The present law was promulgated about 59 years ago. According to a UN report, roughly 15,000 people from Nepal are trafficked into India every year and sold for forced labour or prostitution and even smuggling. Other sources of trafficking into India include Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. Lately, some 80,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar were said to have been trafficked into the country. India is a major supplier of trafficked human beings to West Asian countries and also other parts of the world, including the UK. Globally, human trafficking is a big business. The high risk trade offers lucrative financial returns.
Among the other important pending bills is the one Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was to introduce. It’s called The Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Bill, 2018. The bill seeks to provide for a comprehensive mechanism to ban the unregulated deposits schemes and protect the interest of depositors. The Union Cabinet has just given its approval for introducing the two bills in Parliament that seek to protect the interests of investors. They are: The Banning of Unregulated Deposit Schemes Bill, 2018 and Chit Funds (Amendment) Bill, 2018. The two bills may look to have come quick on the heels of the PNB fraud. But actually, they were considered at least two years ago. The finance minister had talked about a comprehensive legislation to deal with the problem of illicit deposit-taking schemes in his 2016-17 budget speech. Reportedly, regulatory gaps were misused by certain companies to cheat people of their hard-earned savings. The new bill seeks to put a complete end to such activities by banning all unregulated deposit schemes. The bill provides for complete prohibition of unregulated deposit taking activity. It seeks to empower state governments to have a ‘competent authority’ to ensure repayment of deposits in the event of default by a deposit taking establishment. The competent authority will have the power to attach assets of a defaulting establishment. It also provides for designation of courts to oversee repayment of depositors and to try offences under the act and listing of regulated deposit schemes. The bill seeks to provide deterrent punishment for promoting and operating an unregulated deposit taking scheme and for fraudulent default in repayment to depositors. Further, the bill includes categorisation of offences, severe punishment for deterrence, creation of an online central database for deposits-related information, among many others. Now the fate of these important bills will now depend on the monsoon session in July provided that Parliament is allowed to function normally by its aggrieved members. (IPA Service)
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