We have prepared our legislative brief on digital rights for the Budget Session 2023 of the Indian Parliament. In our brief, we highlight some of the focus areas within the larger issues of digital rights, online content regulation, platform governance and free speech, data protection, and other concerns that call for extensive deliberation in the Houses of Parliament.
As per the list of business, the budget session of the Parliament commenced on January 31, 2023 with an address by the President to a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament. The Economic Survey was tabled in the Parliament on the same day, one day ahead of the Union Budget which will be presented by the Finance Minister. The session will take place in two parts with the first part concluding on February 13. The second part will commence from March 13 and will conclude on April 06.
The Winter Session of the Parliament which commenced on December 07, 2022 was adjourned sine die on December 23, 2022, six days ahead of schedule. This was one of the shortest sessions in the 17th Lok Sabha (the other one being Monsoon Session 2020 that was held during the Covid-19 pandemic).
A total of 9 bills were passed by both the houses during the Winter Session of 2022. Apart from the Appropriation Bills and the Amendment Bills to The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, Lok Sabha also passed The Maritime Anti-Piracy Bill, 2022, which was also passed in Rajya Sabha.
The Rajya Sabha witnessed a walkout and boycott by the Opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) following Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar’s refusal to allow notices seeking a discussion under Rule 267 on different issues, particularly the Chinese aggression in Tawang. The ongoing assembly elections in many states delayed the session. To boot, the session was disrupted frequently from the second week onwards, due to the Opposition’s objections on several issues, including the alleged misuse of probe agencies by the government, the Bihar Hooch tragedy, the recent Indo-China conflict, etc.
The Union Government plans to introduce 19 new bills in the ongoing Budget Session. The government might also move for the tabling and passing of the newly introduced draft Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2022 (DPDPB, 2022). Many Bills pertaining to digital rights such as the The Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021, The Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021, and The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2019 are pending for consideration or yet to be introduced and it may be interesting to note how they progress in this Budget Session.
Potential issues to be taken up in the next session
- Proposed data privacy bill fails on key safeguards: The paring down of the DPDPB, 2022, the adoption of a flawed consultation process and a few inherent issues mars the passing of the DPDPB, 2022.
- Draft telecommunication law replicates the colonial Telegraph Act: The draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 replicates its predecessor, the Telegraph Act of 1885, in language and choices while granting more discretion to the government, thereby undermining our constitutional rights.
- An upcoming comprehensive legal framework is awaited: The government has revealed on several instances its intent to replace the two decade old IT Act, 2000. The secrecy and lack of transparency that shrouds the ‘Digital India Bill’ make us wary of this replacement of the IT Act, 2000.
- MeitY continues to introduce amendments to the IT Rules, 2021 which are yet to be tabled in the Lok Sabha: In sheer disregard of the parliamentary procedure which requires the Rules to be tabled in the parliament within 30 sitting days of its notification, the Ministry continues to introduce amendments which have far-reaching implications on free speech, despite the fact that the Union government has not yet tabled the IT Rules, 2021 in the Lok Sabha.
Analysis of Union Budget performance since 2014
Budget 2022-2023 cumulatively allotted a total of ₹ 1,10,488.57 crores to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ministry of Home Affairs, and Department of Technology. Significant funds were allocated for the Census, Survey and Statistics/Registrar General of India and BSNL, Universal Service Obligation General Fund (USOF) to support research and development as well as commercialization of technologies and solutions. However, inadequacies were witnessed in allocations made to PMGDISHA over the years. There was an increase of 781.18% from the Revised Estimates of 2021-22 (₹ 6,218.92 crores), owing mostly to an 889.92% increase in the DoT. Should the estimated budget for the year 2022-2023 hold, the compound annual growth rate over the last 8 financial years (from 2015-2016) would be 19.48%.
(For all our analysis refer to our collated budget data for relevant ministries here)
Key areas of Digital Governance
We engaged in the three public consultations in the past two months, namely, ‘Operationalisation of Unified Health Interface (UHI) in India’ (read our comments here), ‘Proposed amendments to the IT Rules, 2021 in relation to Online Gaming’ (read our comments here), and ‘Introduction of Calling Name Presentation (CNAP) in Telecommunication Networks’ (read our comments here).
Parliamentary Precedent With Respect To Digital Rights
A total of 179, 153, and 61 questions around digital rights issues were asked in the Budget, Monsoon, and Winter Session respectively. As contrasted with 2021, a considerable growth of 66.5% was noted in the number of questions being asked surrounding issues concerning internet access and connectivity, data protection, and digital welfare and development. Significantly, approximately 450 questions touched on issues regarding surveillance and Aadhaar in the Lok Sabha in 2022.
This post just provides a sneak peek at some of the issues we have covered in-depth in our brief. Some of these pieces of information include data on connectivity; statistics on implementation of schemes; details on key areas of digital governance such as public consultations, privacy and data protection, free speech, access to internet, and surveillance; and social justice and public welfare. For more analysis, statistics, and insight into future legislative developments related to digital rights, see here!