A lot of people struggle with the difference between Bills and Acts. A few even use them interchangeably. We’ll resolve that in this post.
So, what is a Bill?
The draft of legislative proposal presented before either House of the Parliament is called a Bill.
And what is an Act?
A bill, once passed by both Houses and approved by the President becomes an Act.
What does ‘passed by both Houses’ mean?
When a bill is first presented in a House of Parliament (Lower or Upper), it goes through three readings:
First reading (Introduction): The bill is introduced. Only the main features and principles are read. That is all.
Second reading (Detailed discussion/Amendments): Principles are read again, the bill can be referred to a Standing Committee if a report on some clauses of the bill is felt needed, clause by clause discussion over the bill takes place and amendments may be made (by a simple majority of the members present and voting).
Third reading (voting): The bill is voted upon. If it is passed, it goes to the other House, where the same procedure, as mentioned above, is followed. If there is an equal number of people both for and against the bill, then the Speaker of the House (who does not normally participate in voting) gets to cast their (deciding) vote. If the number of votes against the bill are more than the number for it, the bill is defeated. And the bill ‘dies’.
Hmm. And what if the bill is passed in one House and defeated in the other House? That can happen, right?
It sure can! This is called a deadlock. In this case, the President can summon a joint session presided over by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the deadlock is resolved by a simple majority. In such a case, the stance of the Lok Sabha usually prevails, since it has a larger (almost double) number of members.
And it has happened earlier. Three times, to be exact. The most recent one was in the year 2002, with the Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA) Act. The bill was defeated in the Rajya Sabha after being passed in the Lok Sabha. It was then passed in the Joint Session.
Cool! And what exactly does President’s approval mean?
The President’s assent/approval is the final part of converting a bill into an Act. If the President gives his assent, the bill becomes an Act. It is published in the Gazette of India and becomes an Act from the date of assent of the President.
And what if he doesn’t?
Well, in that case (which is called pocket veto), the bill goes back to the Parliament for reconsideration. The key point here is, however, that if, after reconsideration, the bill is again passed by both Houses of the Parliament, then the President must give his assent.
After all, the President is just a nominal head. The people’s representatives have the real power. Which in turn means that the people have the real power.
But the people aren’t kept informed of all the content of the bill while it is being converted to an Act, are they?
Of course they are! It’s a people’s government! Once the bill is introduced (first reading), it is published in the official gazette of the House to inform the people and get a democratic opinion on the bill. During the second reading too (before and after amendments), the bill is constantly circulated for the opinion of the general public.
Okay. One last question: when does an Act…umm…’start working’?
Haha. The phrase you’re looking for is ‘come into force‘. Or even more precisely: when an Act becomes the law.
An Act comes into force in the manner written in the Act itself (pretty circular logic, eh?), and as notified in the Gazette of India. It either comes into force the day the president gives it his assent or on some pre-decided date mentioned in the Act itself or on a date set by the Central/State Government.
Publishing an Act in the Gazette of India is the only officially established way to inform the public of a new law. Mind you, once this happens, the Act becomes enforceable by law. In other words, you cannot plead ignorance of it after the Act has been published in the Gazette of India. So we suggest that you get a copy.