Union Minister for Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad on Monday said the joint parliamentary committee was yet to submit the draft personal data protection bill. Prasad’s clarification came after Congress leader Jairam Ramesh pointed out that the panel members were yet to see a draft.

The draft data protection bill proposes to put restrictions on the use of personal information of people without their explicit consent. The items covered by the draft bill on data protection include consent, personal data, exemptions that can be granted, storage restrictions for personal data and individual rights.

A controversy erupted after Prasad told The Hindu that “the select committee has given their report and have done a good job; Covid-permitting, in the next session I will like to push it”.

“I am amazed,” Ramesh said in response. “On March 8th I had been assured by Mrs Meenakshi Lekhi the Chairperson that the draft report will be circulated for comments by members. That is still awaited.”

After Ramesh’s comments, Prasad said the report was yet to be finalised. “I appreciate their (the committee’s) hard work,” he tweeted. “I look forward to their final report so that the Parliament approves a Data Protection Law soon.”

Apart from Ramesh, many other members of the committee also protested against Prasad’s remarks. Congress leader and panel member Manish Tewari hit out at the delays in the finalisation of the report. “The select committee finished its deliberations in December 2020,” he tweeted. “There is no final report for 6 months now. Any idea why @rsprasad? Truth is at times stranger than fiction.”

Trinamool Congress leader and committee member Derek O’Brien said: “The IT Minister says the committee has presented its report to him. This is a blatant violation of parliamentary procedures. Under what provision was the report presented to a Minister? When did the committee adopt the report? Members denied the right to dissent?”

The joint parliamentary committee, which will examine the draft bill, has 20 members from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha. The committee had first got an extension to review the bill till the winter session of Parliament last year. It then received another extension till the first week of the second half of the budget session. The report is now likely to be submitted in the monsoon session. So far, the committee has held 66 meetings and it last met on December 29, according to The Hindu.

The Union Cabinet had approved the bill in December 2019.

In July 2018, a committee headed by retired Justice BN Srikrishna had submitted a report to the Centre on suggestions for the data protection law. The 213-page document made recommendations on several topics, including consent, data protection authority, right to recall data, and rights of children. The report said any law enacted on the matter should have jurisdiction over the processing of personal data if it has been used, shared, disclosed, collected or otherwise processed in India.

Explainer: All you need to know about the Srikrishna panel’s draft data protection law