New Delhi: The government is unlikely to propose any new law to support economic reforms until the middle of the year, despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s promise to do so in the ongoing budget session of Parliament.
The shortening of the session on account of assembly polls in four states and a union territory in April-May seems to have taken its toll on the government’s reforms agenda.
Parliament was expected to take up a number of reform-oriented Bills—including the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, the Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (Amendment) Bill, the Constitution (Amendment) Bill-goods and services tax, the Mines (Amendment) Bill, the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill and the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill—in the budget session.
But this is now doubtful, with both houses of Parliament to be adjourned until further notice on 25 March. The budget session was initially scheduled to go for a three-week recess on 16 March before reconvening from 4 to 21 April.
“No major legislation is expected to be (brought up) in this session as our sole agenda is to pass the budgets, both Union and railway,” said a senior minister, who did not want to be named.
The Union and railway budgets were presented in the last week of February.
The so-called guillotine on the demands for grants from various ministries will take place at 6pm on 17 March, and discussions on the finance bill—or the budget—will begin the next day, said a member of Parliament (MP) who is on the business advisory committee, requesting anonymity. The guillotine is a parliamentary procedure to curtail debate on demands for grants from various ministries to ensure the finance Bill is passed in time.
After the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha discuss allocations for various ministries, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee will reply on 23 March and the finance Bill is expected to be passed the same day.
The MP mentioned above said the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) leadership has suggested a special session beginning in the last week of May to pass urgent Bills. But the UPA is not likely to take up economic reform Bills even in the special session, the MP said.
Some of the finance minister’s calculations are dependent on economic changes.
“Election timings were known, so a little postponement won’t hurt. Some budget assumptions, particularly subsidies, are based on reforms,” said D.K. Joshi, principal economist, Crisil Ltd.
Speaking to journalists on 16 February, Prime Minister Singh had promised a fresh wave of reforms in the current session of Parliament.
“No, we have not given up on reforms,” he said at the time. “We will persist... I sincerely hope in the (coming) budget we will see a clearer picture of the reform agenda.”
Senior Congress leader and civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi said the government is still keen on reform legislation.
“The government is still committed to the legislation it has promised. The Prime Minister has already said so.”
Singh’s government has been battling a number of corruption charges and controversies, which has led critics to say there is drift in governance. The UPA could not get any major business or legislation passed during Parliament’s winter session as the opposition stalled the proceedings of both houses demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) inquiry into alleged irregularities in the allocation of second generation telecom spectrum. The government, which had earlier refused such a probe, constituted a JPC last month to ensure a smoother budget session.
The government had listed 32 Bills for introduction, 31 for consideration and passing and three, including the finance Bill, for introduction, consideration and passing ahead of the budget session.
Sanjiv Shankaran contributed to this story.