New Delhi: The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) may have a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s Parliament, but that doesn’t mean it will find it easy to pass crucial pending Bills, such as the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2008, Women’s Reservation Bill, Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2008, and the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005, say analysts.
The government will also have to revive the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill, 2007, and the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill (PFRDA Bill), 2005, both of which have lapsed and have to be reintroduced in Parliament.
That’s because there are considerable differences between the UPA and its alliance partners on some of these Bills. And all Bills have to be passed by the Lok Sabha as well as the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, before they become Acts.
In the 543-seat Lok Sabha, the Congress has 206 seats, the UPA, 263, and the UPA and parties supporting it without being part of the government, 322. The Left Front, or Communist parties that are against most reform-minded legislation, has just 24 seats, down from 61 last time, but the UPA will still have to muster about half-plus one votes of the members present in the House for a simple majority.
That may be difficult because parties supporting the UPA without being part of the government, such as Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, are staunchly opposed to some Bills, such as the one that will reserve one-third of all seats for women in Parliament and state legislatures.
The situation is worse in the 245-member Rajya Sabha, where the UPA has 85 seats and parties supporting it without being part of it have just 30.
The Congress, however, is optimistic about its ability to get some of these Bills through. Vayalar Ravi, minister for overseas Indian affairs, termed both disinvestment and the Women’s Reservation Bill “major issues”. “We need to have a consensus on them. When it comes to crucial Bills and decisions, we will be able to manage through negotiations and discussions.”
To be sure, disinvestment doesn’t require legislative approval. But some UPA constituents have already gone public against disinvestment, a process the ruling party is keen on pursuing in order to generate resources for its populist programmes.
Both the Trinamool Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have already expressed opposition to the disinvestment of profit-making, state-owned companies.
The Women’s Reservation Bill, meanwhile, has received flak from several people cutting across party lines. Thus, while the main Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has officially pledged unequivocal support for the Bill, some of its leaders are openly expressing dissent.
“BJP would support the Women’s Reservation Bill in whatever form it is brought before the House. We will not accept any further dilution in the percentage of reservation for women. It should not be lesser than 33%,” said Sushma Swaraj, deputy leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha.
The party’s national general secretary, Vinay Katiyar, however, struck a contrarian note and said the Bill in its present form is unacceptable to several leaders cutting across party lines as it does not give representation to all sections of society. He added that no party should issue a whip when the Bill is put to vote in Parliament.
Another Bill that is pending is the Right to Education Bill. This has weathered opposition from various quarters, including private schools, state governments and the Planning Commission.
In its current form, the Bill doesn’t explain how resources for this will be shared between the Centre and states—setting the stage for more opposition and delays.
Two Bills that could actually be passed without much opposition, according to analysts, are the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2008, and the PFRDA Bill, 2005.
The first increases the foreign direct investment ceiling in private insurance firms to 49%, from the current 26%. Both Bills were opposed by the Left Front.
“The government has already clarified that it was for reforms. It is up to the finance minister to decide whether these Bills should be brought in and when,” said parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, responding to a question on whether the government would try and push these Bills through Parliament.
Liz Mathew, Santosh K. Joy and PTI contributed to this story.