The debate on the new ‘cybercrime’ bill has come full circle. The Sub-Committee of the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication on Wednesday recommended to the government to amend/revisit several clauses of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (PEC) Bill, 2016, which is posing curbs on freedom of expression, social media, and directed to make it more comprehensive to safeguard the common man. Its suggestions; hold extensive meetings with all the stakeholders and rework the bill.

It seems like we have heard this exact recommendation before, and the truth is we have. The controversial bill was approved in the National Assembly (NA) on 23th April, 2016 after a lengthy period of consultations and revision with “all involved stakeholders”. While many felt that the draft bill needed to be refined further, the government grew increasingly tired of the concerns raised by the stakeholders – at one point forcibly barring them from entering the assembly building.

In that context it wasn’t surprising that the version presented to the NA received heavy criticism from Internet Service Providers (ISP), lawyers, journalists, freedom of speech advocacy groups and the average internet user for being too onerous and imprecise. Yet, despite this impediment, the National Assembly quickly called for a vote on the bill and gave it their assent.

Now the Senate has taken up the responsibility of debating and amending the bill, and considering the number of clauses it finds problematic, it seems that the upper house of the Parliament will have to do the bulk of the lower house’s job. The Senate committee now plans to hold public hearings to receive input from all concerned.

While this development clearly shows the advantages of a bicameral system – you get a second opinion on proposed laws – it also calls into question the dedication of the lower house of the Parliament to the process of making effective legislation. It is the job of the directly elected MNAs to propose debate and draft law, while the Senate amends and oversees them; yet the NA has been plagued by chronic non-attendance and disinterest. Most laws are drafted in house committees and are only briefly debated before being put to vote. Several Senate sponsored bills have lapsed due to the NA not taking up the matter for debate.

While this in itself is not alarming, the fact that the senate has to repeat almost all of the actions of the NA means there is a problem that needs to be addressed.