Bills 2020: Laws in Quarantimes

The Parliament last met in March 2020 before it shut down abruptly when the Covid 19 pandemic gripped India. Six months later, the monsoon session of the Parliament commenced on 14th September 2020. Unprecedented safety and social distancing measures have been put in place in both houses of the Parliament. With the entire monsoon session limited to 18 days, a host of legislations and pending Bills are proposed to be introduced, discussed, and passed to become Laws.

Most of these Bills / Ordinances have already been discussed in our previous editions of the Law Tree, we recap some of the Bills that have been introduced in the first batch in the Parliament.

The monsoon session commenced with the introduction of 5 new Bills in the Rajya Sabha. They are:

1. The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020

  • The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was promulgated on 22nd April 2020 to amend the archaic Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. With the onset of Covid 19 in India, the Ordinance was introduced to amend the 1897 Act to deal with the consequences of Covid epidemic.
  • Key amendments include legal protection for healthcare personnel who were on the forefront fighting the war with the virus. The Ordinance also widened the scope of powers of the Central government to undertake measures as deemed fit to tackle the spread of epidemic / pandemic diseases. The definition of “healthcare personnel” itself was widened to include anyone (not just doctors and nurses) who were fighting the pandemic. The definition of “act of violence” was also widened to include not only physical assault / abuse but also harassment and obstruction from carrying out duties in any manner. Such offences against healthcare personnel have been made cognizable and non bailable with fine and imprisonment. Additionally, compensation will have to be paid by the offenders to the victims.Further, the powers of the government were enlarged to inspect, check and if necessary, to detain any person(s) and any mode of transport.This Bill has been introduced on priority to replace the Ordinance with a permanent Law.


2. The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020

Introduced on 4th February 2020 in the Lok Sabha, even before the Covid pandemic set in, the Bill sought amendment to the Aircraft Act, 1934. The Aircraft Act was enacted to regulate the manufacture, operation, use, possession, sale, export & import of civil aircrafts and licensing of aerodromes in India.

Key amendments include:

  • Conversion of the three major authorities into Statutory bodies under the Act. The three bodies are: (i) the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), (ii) the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), and (iii) the Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau (AAIB). Each will be headed by a Director General rank officer.
  • The Centre shall have wider powers in regulating these three authorities in carrying out their functions of safety, regulatory and investigative functions with respect to the aircrafts. They will have power to grant, revoke and regulate licenses to use / fly aircraft.
  • Offences will attract fines and imprisonment now. Further, penalties have been increased from Rs. 10 lakhs to Rs. 1 Crore. Certain offences are compoundable.

Aircrafts belonging to air force, navy & army are exempted from this Act. Aircraft belonging to any other armed forces will continue to be governed by this Act.

The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill 2020 was passed in the Rajya Sabha on 15th September 2020 and awaits the Presidential assent.


3. The Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, 2020

The Bill was introduced on 9th April 2020 in the height of the pandemic and consequent total nationwide lockdown. The objective of this was to amend the Acts governing the Salary, allowances and pension of Members of Parliament and Ministers. The intention was to take reduced pay and allowances to supplement / save financials resources of the Centre to deal with the aftermath of the Covid19 pandemic.

  • The essence of the amendments was to reduce the salaries, sumptuary allowances, pension, constituency allowances and office expenditure of MP’s and Ministers by 30%. This will be in force for a period of 1year w.e.f 1st April 2020.
  • This reduction is said to have negligible impact as it is estimated to save less than Rs. 60 Crores, the amendment is nevertheless being put into motion to aid and supplement the Central government’s stretched resources in Covid times.

4. The Homeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Ordinance 2020

The Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was promulgated on 24th April 2020. The original Act was enacted in 1973 to regulate Homoepathic practice and its education by reconstitution of the Central council within 1 year. In 2018 the time was extended to 2 years. The 2020 amendment seek further extension of time from 2 years to 3 years.

5. The Indian Medicine Central Council (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020

This Ordinance also promulgated on 24th April 2020 seeks to amend the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970. The Act seeks to regulate the education and practice of the Indian Medicine System including Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy through a Central council. Like in the previous legislation, the amendment seeks to reconstitute the Central council and seeks extension of time by 1 year.

It is business as usual for the Parliament amidst staggered seating and social distancing. With a host of Bills in the pipeline waiting to be becomes Laws, the first set of Bills were introduced to be put into effect at the earliest.


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