The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the National Medical Commission Bill to replace the Medical Council of India with a new body. The bill, which seeks to replace the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, was passed by a voice vote.

The NMC Bill, which was passed after All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhaga leaders walked out, had been approved by the Lok Sabha on Monday. Opposition leaders also protested in the Upper House over the Speaker not taking their concerns into record during the voice vote, The Indian Express reported.

Earlier in the day, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan described the bill in the Rajya Sabha as the biggest reform in the field of medical education, The Hindu reported. Resident doctors at major government hospitals in Delhi, including All India Institutes of Medical Sciences, Safdarjung Hospital and Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, have threatened an indefinite strike to protest against the bill.

Harsh Vardhan alleged that the Medical Council of India in the past few decades had become corrupt. In 2010, there were stories of arrests of the medical body’s officials. In 2014, he said, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at helm “a new paradigm of zero tolerance towards corruption” was started. He also assured doctors that their apprehensions would be addressed. He insisted that the bill does not promote quackery.

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said the Bill would open floodgates of privatisation of medical education. “I am not against privatisation. I want Air India to be privatised, I want development to take place,” he said. “But I am against privatising the medical education. It should be a basic right.”

“Medical is not engineering. There has to be a clinical component,” Ramesh added.

Navaneethakrishnan of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam asked the Centre to revisit the “community health provider” tag given to those who are not qualified doctors while Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Manoj Kumar Jha said blatant privatisation was not a solution for problems in the health sector. “Do not celebrate quackery as a kind of contribution,” he urged. “This is an omission Bill, not a commission Bill.”

Following the bill’s passage, the Rajya Sabha took up the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019.

Proceedings in the Lower House

Meanwhile, the Lok Sabha passed the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2019. The Upper House had approved it on July 29. Union Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the liquidation of a company was not the sole agenda of the code. Seven sections of its sections have been revised.

Sitharaman said the bill provides an effective and robust legal framework to resolve insolvency cases and release non-performing assets quickly. The amendments also give the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India additional powers. The amendments to insolvency law would bring in more clarity on various provisions, including time-bound disposal at the application stage for resolution plan and treatment of financial creditors, the minister added.

She quoted a Supreme Court judgement to say that with implementation of the code India would no longer be a defaulter’s paradise.

Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi raised concerns about liquidation of companies, including the ones in the real estate sector that puts home buyers’ life savings at risk.

YSR Congress MP Srinivasulu Reddy spoke about the death of Cafe Coffee Day founder VG Siddhartha and said industries were sick because of business failures. He said while the government was working towards ease of doing business, there was an increase in difficulties of doing business. “Asses and horses are in the same stable,” Reddy said, adding that the government was looking at honest and dishonest business through the same prism.

The Lower House also unanimously passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019, after discussion. The bill seeks death penalty for aggravated sexual assault cases involving children.

Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani, who tabled the draft law, said that the legislation was an attempt to make offences against children gender-neutral. Rita Bahuguna Joshi of the Bharatiya Janata Party said the amendments would strengthen the law.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Kanimozhi asked Irani to include clauses on child prostitution, and added that laws should not be made on the basis of emotions. Nationalist Congress Party leader Supriya Sule said a national sex offender registry should be created.

The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was also passed by the Lok Sabha through a voice vote. The bill would make India an international arbitration hub as it would facilitate settlements of commercial disputes.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, during the debate, said that India had qualified to have a centre of international arbitration as it had a sufficient number of qualified lawyers, skill and training facilities, according to PTI. He further said that Indians and Indian companies involved in these arbitrations had to go to centres in other countries.

‘Introducing bills arbitrarily’

Meanwhile, Opposition leaders in the Lok Sabha created a commotion, claiming that the government had introduced bills without giving them prior information.

Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy claimed the government was not giving the Opposition sufficient time to research key bills, Firstpost reported. “This House cannot function on the government’s whims and fancies,” Roy said. Another TMC MP reportedly said the Opposition was questioning the government’s “whimsical and arbitrary exercise” of power.

Kanimozhi said such instances should have been an exception but have now become a norm, while the Congress’ Shashi Tharoor cited the Lok Sabha handbook and said the government must give two days of notice before introducing new bills.

Speaker Om Birla, in response, promised to personally ensure that all MPs are informed a day in advance before new bills are listed. “Since I was chosen to be the Speaker it’s my responsibility to see that I run House with consensus of all MPs,” he said, according to ANI. “As you requested, I’ll see to it personally that before a Bill is listed all MPs are informed about it a day in advance so you prepare for it.”

MPs from both Houses criticised the BJP in July for the hurried passage of bills during the ongoing Parliament session. On Wednesday, Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien attacked the government and said Parliament was supposed to scrutinise bills. “Are we delivering pizzas or passing legislation,” he had asked.

His tweet had accompanied a chart showing the “bulldozing” in the ongoing session. The chart showed the number of bills that were sent to parliamentary panels for scrutiny since 2004. As many as 60% of the bills were sent for scrutiny during the 14th Lok Sabha and 71% in the 15th Lok Sabha, but this dropped to 26% between 2014 and 2019, when the Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power, the chart showed. The 17th Lok Sabha has passed 18 bills, but only one of them was sent for scrutiny, according to the chart.

Last week, the Trinamool Congress MP had also criticised the passage of the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill. On July 26, seventeen MPs from Opposition parties had written to Rajya Sabha Chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu raising concerns over the “hurried passing” of bills in Parliament. They alleged that the bills were being passed without any scrutiny and asked Naidu to interfere.