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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Info Post
(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, on 21 November, 2011, retrieved from

NOTE: This is not opinion; it's something like a lesson out of a Civics textbook, intended for schoolkids, and possibly journalists who need to write an explanatory article or package, are time-pressed, and therefore free to plagiarise.

When Parliament meets for the winter session, which runs from November 22 to December 21, with 21 working days, one of the priorities in the legislative agenda is the passing of the Lokpal Bill.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal has said the government is determined to introduce the Lokpal Bill, as a first step to fighting corruption. Incidentally, Anna Hazare has threatened to go on yet another hunger strike if the Bill is not passed during the winter session.
The Bill is currently being debated by a Parliamentary Standing Committee, which will submit its report soon. But introducing the Bill is only the beginning of the process. There are various stages of discussion before the Bill is signed into Law, whereupon it becomes an Act.
The First Reading
The Bill is only a draft of a legislative proposal. Once it is framed, it has to be published in the newspapers for suggestions from the public. After accommodating these, a modified draft of the Bill can be presented for the First Reading in one of the Houses.
It can be introduced in either House of Parliament – Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha – and can be introduced either by a Government Minister (Government Bill) or a Private Member (Private Member’s Bill.)
The member who presents the Bill (member-in-charge) must ask the Speaker for leave to introduce it. If anyone opposes this, the Speaker can ask the opposing member to explain why, and allow the member-in-charge to counter it. Then, the House is asked to vote in favour of or against introduction of the Bill. In some cases – for example, that the Bill involves laws that are beyond the competence of the House – the Speaker may call for a full discussion before the introduction of the Bill.
If there is no opposition, the minister may read the Bill, explaining the provisions and principles if necessary.
This stage is known as the First Reading of the Bill. After this, it is published in the Official Gazette. In some cases, if the Speaker grants permission, the Bill can be published even before it is introduced. If that happens, the Bill is introduced in the House without waiting for leave to do so.
The Standing Committee
After the introduction of a Bill, the Presiding Officer of the House in which the Bill has been introduced can refer it to a Standing Committee to scrutinise it and make a report. The Committee, in addition to examining the general principles and clauses of the Bill, can also ask for expert opinion or public opinion. The Committee will then submit the report. In the case of the Lokpal Bill, Bansal has said he expects the report to be submitted by December 1.
The Second Reading of the Bill
This happens in two stages. In the first stage, there will be a general discussion on the principle behind the Bill, in the House in which it was introduced. The House may refer the Bill to a Select Committee of the House, or a Joint Committee of the two Houses, or circulate it across the country to get the people’s opinion, or take it directly into consideration.
If the Bill is referred to a Committee, it will be considered clause-by-clause. Amendments can be suggested by the Committee members, and expert opinion may be sought. Then, the Committee will resubmit its report to the House, which will consider the Bill again.
If the House has decided to, instead of referring it to a Committee, get public opinion, then the Bill will be given to the Governments of States and Union Territories, who will seek public opinion. The opinions will be tabled, and then the Bill must be referred to a Select Committee of the House or a Joint Committee of the two Houses, before it is considered in the House.
If the Bill has been taken directly into consideration, without being referred either to a Committee or the pubic, then it moves to the second stage.
In the second stage, the House will consider the Bill clause-by-clause, in the context of the Committee’s report. If anyone wants to suggest changes, they may do so, and that will be put to vote before being accepted or rejected by a simple majority of the members present. Once the clauses, Schedules (if any), the Enacting Formula and the Long Title of the Bill have been adopted by the House, it’s time for the Third Reading
 Third Reading of the Bill
Now, the member who first introduced the Bill can ask for the Bill to be passed. Here, there is room for debate. But, only formal, verbal and consequential amendments – i.e., a change that is necessary for clarity following a previous change to the text of the Bill – are allowed. There can be argument on whether the Bill should be passed or rejected, but the speakers should not get into intricate details.
Passing of the Bill
If it is an ordinary Bill, like the Lokpal Bill, then it will be passed by simple majority of the members present when it is put to vote. But if it is a Bill to amend the Constitution, then more than half of the total membership of the House, and at least two-thirds of the members present during the vote must be in favour of the Bill in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
Bill in the other House
Once the House in which the Bill is introduced passes it, the accepted draft will be sent to the other House, where all the stages – except for the Introduction – will be repeated. If the second House suggests any changes, then the Bill is sent back to the House in which it was introduced. If there is agreement, that version of the Bill may be passed. If not, then, the Houses will be in disagreement, and a Joint Session is called by the President, provided six months have passed in the second House. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha will preside over the Joint Session, and the versions are put to vote and passed by simple majority of those present. So far, only three Bills have been passed in this manner – Dowry Prohibition Act (1961), Banking Service Commission Repeal Bill (1978) and Prevention Of Terrorist Activities Act (2002).
President’s Assent
This is the last stage, after the Bill has been passed.
If the President signs the Bill into Law, it becomes an Act from the date on which it is signed.
If the President does not agree with the Bill, s/he can return it to Parliament with recommendations. The Parliament must then reconsider the Bill, but may pass it and return the Bill to the President, who must sign it into Law.
But there is a third option too – the President may withhold his or her assent. In that case, which is known as ‘Pocket Veto’, the Bill is dropped. This has happened only once in India’s history – in 1986, President Zail Singh withheld his assent over the Postal Act, where the government wanted to open postal letters without warrant.


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