New Delhi: The Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government may not be able to pass any key reforms in the second phase of the budget session as well, with opposition parties and some of its own allies set to raise hurdles in the absence of a consensus.
The government has listed 40 Bills for consideration and passage in the budget session that resumes on Tuesday after a recess.
High hopes: Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee (Pradeep Gaur/Mint)
But the UPA government has not been able to reach a consensus within and outside the ruling coalition over contentious items of legislation such as the anti-graft Lokpal Bill and the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill.
While the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies have decided to take on the government over the Lokpal Bill, UPA member Trinamool Congress—which blocked the PFRDA and the Lokpal Bills earlier—has set the Centre a 15-day deadline to accept its demand for a three-year moratorium on interest payments by West Bengal. Another UPA member, the Nationalist Congress Party, has criticized the government’s cotton and sugar policies saying these will hurt farmers.
The UPA government is not in a situation to push hard reforms, said N. Bhaskara Rao, a political analyst.
“Every party is too busy with the upcoming presidential elections to work out a fresh formula. Besides, both the opposition and the allies, who are not in good terms with the Congress, are keen to show that this government is a lame-duck (administration),” Rao said. “The government can only push for soft and non-contentious legislation.”
Parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said Parliament will take up the Finance Bill for debate and passage on 7 and 8 May. Guillotining of the demands for grants is expected to take place on 2 or 3 May, ahead of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Manila to attend a meeting of the Asian Development Bank.
The Lok Sabha will begin debating demands for grants of the health and family welfare, urban development, home affairs and commerce ministries from 25 April, and the Rajya Sabha will discuss issues related to the civil aviation, coal, defence and labour ministries.
Recent Parliament sessions have seen the opposition stall proceedings over scams and controversies involving the government. The disruptions have blocked many Bills and debates over matters of public importance.
In 2009, the year the Congress party-led UPA was re-elected, the government passed 41 laws and 43 in the next year. But in 2011, as the 2G telecom scam surfaced, the UPA government could pass only 36 items of legislation.
“Never in the history of the country (have) so many working days been lost,” human resource minister Kapil Sibal said. “The purpose of Parliament is to debate on matters concerning public interest and legislate. Gagging of Parliament processes can’t be central to public discourse.”
On Sunday, Mukherjee said he hoped to have three key reforms—PFRDA, banking changes, and the insurance amendment Bill to raise foreign holding to 49%—passed in the budget session, which ends on 22 May.
“The fact that the finance minister made the statement that it will be taken up, (you can) rest assured that he has the confidence,” Bansal said.
Although the insurance amendment Bill proposes to raise the foreign holding limit to 49%, Mint on 19 March reported that the government may drop this because of political opposition. The Bill also proposes to allow the entry of foreign reinsurers and provides for permanent registration of insurance companies.
Two people familiar with developments at the Centre said the government has not yet received any assurance from the opposition or its own allies on their support for the insurance amendment Bill.
The UPA government has a wafer-thin majority in the Lok Sabha and is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha.
The BJP, at a meeting of its parliamentary party executive committee on Monday, also decided to flag purported comments by chief economic adviser Kaushik Basu that India will undertake key reforms only after 2014 and demanded a discussion on the government’s economic policy.
Basu has clarified that his comments were made with reference to the weakening economic situation in Europe and not to the general election in India in 2014.
BJP leaders also decided to raise the issue of the Maoist rebellion in the backdrop of the kidnapping of Sukhma collector Alex Paul Menon in Chhattisgarh.
The party also indicated that it will demand the passage of the Lokpal Bill first before taking up other issues.
In another development that may embarrass the Congress in Parliament, its MP and spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi resigned from the post of chairman of parliamentary standing committee on law and justice.
Although Singhvi said he quit “only to prevent even the slightest possible Parliamentary disruption” over a video that purports to feature him, the BJP has said that it would seek an official explanation from the member of Rajya Sabha and seek the matter to be referred to a privilege committee. The Congress said it was a personal matter.
Singhvi has called the video fabricated and blamed political rivals for the controversy.
PTI contributed to this story.