Cabinet reshuffle delays data privacy law

Cabinet reshuffle delays data privacy law

The recent cabinet reshuffle that saw senior ministers leaving their posts will delay the country’s much-awaited data privacy law, legal experts have warned.

The government’s recent announcement saw the departures of: Minister of Law and Justice, and Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad; Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan; Minister of Information and Broadcasting, and Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar; and Minister of Education Ramesh Pokhriyal, among others.

Ameeta Duggal, partner and co-founder at DGS Associates in New Delhi, said that with five members of the joint committee of parliament (JCP) reporting on the Data Privacy Bill being made ministers, delays could be expected. “The JCP report was due in the monsoon session,” she said, “but the new chairperson, PP Chaudhary, has sought an extension until the first week of the winter session, which would mean November of this year. Even this seems like an optimistic target and further delays what is today the most important piece of legislation.”

On the positive side, she also noted that the ministerial appointments of two of the JCP members – Ashwini Vaishnaw as the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, and Rajeev Chandrasekhar as the Minister of State in charge of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology – were a welcome move for the development of the IT space.

“This sector is calling out for significant reforms,” said Duggal. “We have reforms pending concerning data protection, making India a digital economy, clear guidelines on intangible technology transfers, and a better ecosystem for startups, particularly in the e-commerce space.”

Anandaday Misshra, the managing partner of AMLEGALS in Ahmedabad, said the reshuffle did not come as a surprise. “The government had already given indications that they were looking to revamp the premium workforce in order to boost the trust of citizens,” he said. “This, however, would not have a major impact on the policies and reforms that were already planned, barring one or two like the data privacy bill, which has been delayed for far too long now.”

Hasit Seth, an independent counsel at the Bombay High Court in Mumbai, said there would now be a transitional period for the new incoming minister to come up to speed, “but this will not have a significant impact, as India has quite a centralised system”.

The portfolios seen as core ministries such as defence, finance and roads remained unchanged in the reshuffle. Seth expects some slowdown in policymaking to come as the 2024 general elections draw nearer.

“Towards the election years, the policymaking slows down,” he said. “The ministries would be busy finishing implementation for what was declared earlier. I am hoping that the government is able to finish a few major disinvestments they had signalled, such as the LIC IPO and the privatisations of BPCL and Air India. These big-ticket matters have been lingering for a couple of years. If they can finish those before election time, it would be great.”