A number of private members’ bills, introduced independently by MPs, covering a number of contentious matters were listed or introduced in Parliament on Friday during the start of the Winter Session.

While they have made news and might act as drivers of political conversation, historically, private members’ bills almost never get passed.

The private members’ bills introduced related to the introduction of a Uniform Civil Code, appointment of judges, Election Commission appointments and the powers of state governors. A bill seeking repeal of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act was listed on the House’s agenda for the day, but was not introduced.

A description of the bills is as below:

1. Uniform Civil Code in India Bill

Kirodi Lal Meena, a Member of Parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, introduced the Uniform Civil Code in India Bill, 2020 in the Rajya Sabha. It seeks to establish a committee for a nationwide implementation of the Uniform Civil Code. Similar bills have been introduced in the past.

“Uniform Civil Code” refers to a proposed common law that will govern marriages, divorces, succession and adoption for all Indians. Currently, these practices are regulated by varying personal laws based on the religion practised by the individual. The proposed law is meant to ensure equality.

The Uniform Civil Code is a contentious topic. Introduction of Meena’s bill was opposed by Opposition members who said such a law will rupture the country’s social fabric and prevailing unity in diversity.

The BJP has, however, has been a long-time advocate of a Uniform Civil Code.

2. National Judicial Commission Bill

Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, a Member of Parliament from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), introduced the National Judicial Commission Bill, 2022 in the Rajya Sabha. The bill aims to regulate the procedure to be followed by the proposed National Judicial Commission for recommending persons for appointments as the Chief Justice of India, judges of the Supreme Court, as well as chief justices and other judges of High Courts.

If cleared by Parliament, the commission would also regulate judges’ transfers and provide for them being held accountable. It would set up a mechanism for investigating individual complaints of misbehaviour or incapacity of judges in the Supreme Court or the High Courts.

This comes amid a raging political debate between the government and the Opposition over the judiciary’s independence. The bill has been opposed by the Aam Aadmi Party, whose lawmaker Raghav Chadha said the top court has already dismissed the National Judicial Commission.

In 2015, the Supreme Court had struck down a similar National Judicial Appointments Commission Act which was passed by Parliament in 2014. The court said the law was unconstitutional.

Also read: Why are the Supreme Court and Modi government in a war of words over judicial appointments?

3. Election Commission reforms

Congress leader Manish Tewari introduced a private member’s bill in Lok Sabha, highlighting “growing concern” around the autonomy of the Election Commission. The bill seeks formation of a committee headed by the prime minister, comprising the Leaders of the Opposition from both Houses, the CJI and two senior-most judges of the apex court to select the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners.

The Union government is currently facing questions from the Supreme Court as it hears a clutch of petitions challenging the process by which election commissioners are appointed. At present, the convention is that the chief election commissioner and the election commissioners are appointed by the Union government. Over the last few years, the Opposition has been raising doubts about the fairness of the polling agency.

4. Curbing Governors’ powers

V Sivadasan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) introduced the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2022 (amendment of Article 153 and substitution of Articles 155 and 156) in the Upper House. The bill intends to redefine the role and powers of the Governor.

It was introduced amid the CPI(M)-led Kerala government’s ongoing tussle with Governor Arif Mohammad Khan. The lawmaker from Kerala said the Union government was misusing the Governor’s position to push its agenda in the states.

5. The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Repeal Bill

BJP lawmaker Harnath Singh Yadav was to introduce the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Repeal Bill, 2022. While it was not introduced on Friday, it could be introduced later in this session. The bill seeks to repeal the existing Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991.

The existing Places of Worship Act prohibits conversion of any place of worship and calls for maintaining the religious character of any place of worship as it was on August 15, 1947 – the day India became independent. Only the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Mosque dispute in Ayodhya was an exception to this law.

It comes at a time when the Supreme Court is hearing the Gyanvapi mosque case. The case pertains to a plea filed by five women petitioners who claimed that an image of a Hindu deity exists at the back of the western wall of the mosque. They have demanded that they be allowed to offer daily prayers and observe other Hindu rituals at the site.

The Opposition had protested the contentious bill’s planned introduction in the Monsoon Session in July.

Opposition members protest in the Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament in July, 2022. | PTI
Opposition members protest in the Rajya Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament in July, 2022. | PTI

What are private members’ bills?

“Private member” refers to any Parliament member, including from the ruling coalition, who is not a Minister in the Union Cabinet. Bills introduced in either Houses by such members are called “private members’ bills”. Bills introduced by Union ministers are “government bills” and are supported by the government.

A bill becomes a law after being passed by both Houses of Parliament and receiving the Presidential assent.

Private members can bring in bills on any subject, including those requiring constitutional amendments. However, a private member’s bill seeking to amend the Constitution is scrutinised and approved by a committee before it is tabled in Parliament for consideration.

Private members bills have a very poor track record

By Parliamentary convention, it is the government that is responsible for passing legislation. Drafts of bills are prepared by the government and then only introduced to Parliament. Since the government has a majority in the legislature, passage of legislation is relatively easy for it.

In contrast, bills which do not have the support of the government will find it very difficult to muster up the numbers in Parliament.

As a result, only 14 private members’ bills have been passed by Parliament so far. Six of them were passed in 1956 alone. No private member’s bill has become an Act since 1970.

The Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, 2014 was the first such private member’s bill to pass in either House in 46 years when the Rajya Sabha cleared it in 2015. It lapsed in the Lower House with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha in 2019.