The Narendra Modi government got a double bonanza on Thursday, with the Parliament approving RTI Act and Lok Sabha passing the Triple Talaq bill, after a walkout by Congress and opposition leaders despite their vociferous criticism.
The Rajya Sabha passed the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, days after it was passed in Lok Sabha.
The bill replaces earlier provisions with regard to tenure and salary of Information Commissioners at the Centre and the state.
While the earlier act set the salaries of Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners on par with that of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners, the new law seeks to give the government powers to fix salaries, tenures and other terms and conditions of employment of information commissioners.
The bill was passed by a voice vote in Rajya Sabha, after negating an Opposition sponsored motion to send it to a House committee for greater scrutiny.
The motion was negated by 117 members voting against the motion and 75 members voting in favour. This after high drama in the House over what opposition charged was “intimidation” by the treasury benches to get the motion for sending the amendment to the RTI Act to the Select Committee rejected. Following this, Congress and opposition members walked out of the House in protest.
Earlier, during the debate on the motion, a host of opposition leaders raised issues over autonomy and functioning of the Information Commission, saying it would become another “government department”.
Leaders like Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Kumar Khetkar of Congress saying that the government was afraid of releasing information about its activities and scams.
“They realised that the real enemy is not just opposition, but information in the hands of opposition and on the streets,” Khetkar said.
Professor Manoj Kumar Jha of RJD said the temptation is to usher in an authoritarian state. “Please resist that temptation — in the interest of the people, the citizens, and the country.”
Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh, replying to the debate, assured the opposition that the bill was brought with clean intention and the government is trying to live up its moto of minimum government, maximum governance.
“Please rest be assured that this legislation is without any motivation and in good faith,” he said justifying the change in the salary and status of RTI body members.
“At the end of the day it will lead to streamlining of the information commission and that in process will also strengthen the provision of the RTI Act,” he said.
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.”
Triple Talaq Bill Passed in Lok Sabha
In Lok Sabha, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2019, popularly known as the “triple talaq” bill, which proposes to make the practice of instant “triple talaq” illegal and punish husbands doing that with up to three years in jail, was passed amid a walkout by Congress, Trinamool Congress, DMK, Samajwadi Party and JD(U) members.
The motion was rejected by a division vote of 303 for and 82 against.
The ban on issuing instant divorce by pronouncing “triple talaq” thrice is currently being enforced through an ordinance since a bill similar to the present one couldn’t be passed in the Upper House during the tenure of the 16th Lok Sabha. Now the bill will face scrutiny of Rajya Sabha again.
Opposing the bill, Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) asked if the husband is jailed, as the bill proposes, then how will he be able to pay the maintenance to his wife while in jail.
“You want to destroy the institution of marriage and bring the women on the road,” he said, asking why the government wanted to jail the Muslim husband when the Supreme Court has banned instant triple talaq.
Targeting the BJP, Owaisi said if the government was so keen to give justice to the Muslim women, it should also think about the Muslim women who were “raped” during the 2013 Muzzaffarnagar riots and yet there is no conviction in those cases.
“You brought law against Jallikattu (bull-taming) but failed to bring legislation against the mob lynching of the Muslims in different parts of the country,” the AIMIM member said. Owaisi challenged the government to take all women MPs of BJP in a special aircraft to Sabarimala, if the government is concerned about the rights of women.
Gaurav Gogoi (Congress) said the SC had not asked the government to make triple talaq a criminial 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,” Gogoi said.
Mohammad Jawed (Congress) said more number of Hindu women are being divorced as compared to Muslim women.
PK Kunhalikutty (IUML) said according to the last census, the percentage of Muslim divorce is very minimal at 0.56 per cent, whereas in other communities, the percentage is high.
Instant triple talaq cases high: Govt
Responding to questions raised by members, minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said 574 cases of triple talaq were reported since January 2017 and 101 after the issuance of an Ordinance in this regard.
On why the NDA government was coming out with a bill concerning Muslim women, the Minister said because the practice is prevalent in the Muslim Community and not in any other community.
Quoting a commentary by Amir Ali, Prasad said that even Prophet Mohammad was very much opposed to this practice and had on an occasion asked his follower to take back his wife. “Modi sarkar ghum-ghum ke nahi chalti, sidhe chalti hai (the Modi government does not beat around the bush. It acts clearly),” he stressed.
He said that Congress could have banned this practice in 1986 at the time of Shahbano controversy but did not do so because of vote bank politics. “Triple talaq is regulated in 20 countries. When it can change in countries following sharia law, why cant in a secular country,” questioned Prasad.
With regard to issues raised by members on mob lynching, the Minister said that action was being taken against the culprits under the IPC.
Seeking to allay fears that the proposed law could be misused, the government has included certain safeguards in it such as adding a provision for bail for the accused.
While the bill makes it a “non-bailable” offence, an accused can approach a magistrate even before trial to seek bail. In a non-bailable offence, bail cannot be granted by police at the police station itself.
A provision was added to allow the magistrate to grant bail “after hearing the wife”, the government has said.
The wife is entitled for subsistence allowance to be decided by the magistrate after she files a complaint against the husband. There cannot be any maintenance as instant triple talaq itself is illegal and there is no legal separation, the minister said.
The BJP, which had issued a whip to its MPs to ensure maximum strength in the House, had fielded its women members — Meenakshi lekhi, Poonam Mahajan, Aparajita Sarangi, to participate in the debate.