Question mark on reform Bills as BJP remains undecided

Question mark on reform Bills as BJP remains undecided

New Delhi: The ruling United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, expects to push through key economic Bills in the parliamentary session starting on Friday, but some senior officials are concerned that the Bills for supplementary grants—so-called money Bills—may fail to get sufficient legislative support and lead to the government’s fall.

“The government is keen to get these Bills passed in Parliament in this session. We hope that the House will support us," said P.K. Bansal, the junior minister for finance.

In the 536-member Lok Sabha, the Congress-led UPA can easily pass the Bills if it manages to get the support of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.

Key Bills the government would like to see passed include the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2005, and the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill, 2005.

Without the BJP’s support, the UPA, which has a thin majority in the Lok Sabha, will find it tough to get any Bill passed. The Congress party has only 152 members in the lower house.

“Money Bills are treated like a vote of confidence and if it is defeated, the government, usually, has to go," said constitution expert Shanti Bhushan.

While a Congress minister, who didn’t want to be identified, said he expects the BJP to back reform Bills, senior BJP leader Santosh Gangwar said the party hasn’t yet taken a stand.

“We have not taken any decision. Our strategy on the floor of the House may be different from our established position. The NDA (BJP-led National Democratic Alliance) will meet on Friday to decide its strategy," Gangwar said.

The BJP had earlier indicated that it would not stand in the way of reforms Bills. However, in the wake of the global financial crisis, BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad has asked the government to “rethink" its proposed reforms. “The US crisis should make the government rethink on its proposed road map, to be implemented from March 2009, which envisages conferring voting rights on foreign investors in Indian banks," Prasad said.

Senior government officials, who didn’t want to be named, said it is likely that money Bills may not be supported by the BJP.

Money Bills are those that exclusively contain provisions for imposition and abolition of taxes or for appropriation of money out of the consolidated fund of the Union government. Money Bills can be introduced only in the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha cannot make amendments in money Bills passed by the Lok Sabha.

Several ministries, including the rural development ministry, the ministry of shipping and road transport, and the the petroleum ministry have sought supplementary grants in order to finance their ongoing programmes.

“We are quite concerned about how the present political atmosphere will affect the House when it comes to passing these money Bills," said a senior official who didn’t wish to be named. “Given the intensity of the political battles that are being fought now between the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or DMK, and the UPA, and the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) and the ruling alliance, for instance, one just cannot predict as to whether money Bills would go unchallenged as is the norm."

Another reform Bill, the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2008, is likely to be introduced in Parliament in this session, but it will have to go to the parliamentary standing committee on finance for a detailed study before it returns to the House.

The uncertainty in the UPA’s ranks has deepened after DMK Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi submitted her resignation from the upper House to party chief and father M. Karunanidhi in line with the decision of an all-party meeting to put pressure on the Centre to call for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka.