The much-delayed Personal Data Protection Bill is set to be taken up for discussion in the upcoming Winter session of Parliament as the Parliamentary Joint Select Committee is in the final stages of preparing its report.

The reconstituted panel after its former chairperson Meenakshi Lekhi became a member in the Council of Ministers met on Wednesday for a two-day discussion on the Bill.

Sources in the panel said that the report could be submitted to Speaker Om Birla ahead of the winter session. It may suggest some amendments to the Bill, which will be finalised on Thursday . The panel has been discussing the Bill since December 2019. It was about to finalise its report when its chairperson Lekhi was inducted into the Council of Ministers. PP Chaudhary is the new chairman of the panel.

No substantial changes

A member said the new panel has not made any substantial changes to the report discussed by them when Lekhi was the chairperson. “Some members are yet to submit their suggestions to the draft report circulated among the members. We will sit on Thursday to discuss those proposals.

The chairman will take a final view before preparing the draft report, and we will be able to submit it before the winter session,” said a senior member in the panel. An Opposition member in the panel said there may not be any dissent notes against the draft report.

He said the chairman has agreed to the suggestions, such as protecting the rights of the State in dealing with cases of breach of privacy, and have been accepted by the panel.

“On the role and functions of Data Protection Authority of India, some members had raised certain reservations regarding its ambit. There are suggestions that the Bill should have to provide for the creation of Data Protection Authority of States, too,” said the member.

The panel also discussed Chapter VIII of the Bill threadbare that discusses the power of the Centre to exempt any agency of government from the application of the Act. “We have not recommended not many changes to this chapter. We think that these exemptions are clearer than the intermediary rules issued by the IT Ministry,” said another member.

Privacy as a right

The Bill was necessitated after the Supreme Court declared privacy as a fundamental right under article 21 of the Constitution through a judgment delivered in 2017. Subsequently, in 2018, a five-Judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court asked the Centre to bring out “a robust data protection regime”.

The Centre constituted a Committee of Experts on Data Protection, headed by Justice BN Srikrishna, to examine the issues relating to data protection and the panel submitted its report in July 2018 with a draft Bill.

The Centre tabled the Personal Data Protection Bill in 2019 after the Cabinet cleared a fresh legislation based on Justice Srikrishna panel’s recommendations. The Bill went to the joint select committee, and the panel has been discussing it since then. It got several extensions for submitting the report.

Senior Congress leader and member in the joint select committee, Jairam Ramesh, said on Twitter that the panel had a marathon six-hour sitting on Wednesday. “It is meeting again tomorrow (Thursday) to discuss the few clauses remaining and will complete its deliberations. It has been a massive collective effort,” he said.