The election results are out and it appears that we will see the return of a United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre led by Manmohan Singh. The tone of the elections does not offer any clue on policy priorities. Party manifestos are relevant only to the extent that they may be pointers to what the ruling coalition is likely to have in its common minimum programme.
So, what can we really expect from the new government with regard to major policy issues?
Given that the Congress party on its own has notched up significant gains, it is likely to have a much greater say in policy direction. In the previous government, the Left parties had prevented the government from bringing in several draft Bills. Some of these might now be taken up.
C.V. Madhukar, Director, PRS Legislative Research
During the 14th Lok Sabha, Parliament passed 247 Bills, including fresh legislative proposals, amendments to existing legislation and appropriations Bills. Although 40 Bills lapsed due to the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, 39 are still pending in the Rajya Sabha.
Of the Bills that lapsed, let me highlight two that are very significant.
After violent local protests in Nandigram, West Bengal, the government brought in a draft legislation to address the issues surrounding land acquisition and rehabilitation of affected persons. A last-ditch effort to push it through at the fag end of the 14th Lok Sabha failed.
The Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill was introduced way back in March 2005, which aimed to reduce the long-term fiscal impact on the government by creating a mechanism for individuals to save for their retirement.
Even though the Bharatiya Janata Party had openly expressed support, the government did not take it up because of opposition from the Left.
There are a number of other significant Bills that lapsed. Among these were the Companies Bill, which sought to replace the Companies Act, 1956; the Micro Financial Sector Bill, which aimed at providing a framework to regulate the large number of microfinance groups that are coming up across the country; the Judges Inquiry Bill, which provided for ways of taking action against erring judges, etc.
Some of the lapsed Bills could not be passed not just because of opposition from any particular ally, but due to the inability of the government to organize itself to move things through the system.
Of the Bills that are pending in the Rajya Sabha, the Right to Education Bill, which seeks to give effect to the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to education, has huge implications.
The Seeds Bill, which was introduced in 2004, could not be passed due to opposition from farmers groups and other UPA allies. This Bill sought to regulate the sale and purchase of seeds to and by farmers.
Towards the end of its previous regime, the UPA government introduced the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill that allows foreign direct investment limit to be increased to 49%, from the current 26%. The Bill has been referred to the standing committee and its recommendations are yet to be submitted.
It is difficult to predict the urgency with which the government might bring up any of these Bills.
However, there is one distinct advantage of having a UPA government from a legislative standpoint—the new government can hit the ground running. While it has its task cut out, the next several months will show us whether the government will be able to marshal its resources to push ahead its policy agenda.
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