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The government introduced two key bills in the Lok Sabha on Friday, one aimed at divestment of the insurance sector and the other to fight pollution in the national capital region, amid protests by opposition members on various issues.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman tabled the General Insurance Business (Nationalization) Amendment Bill, 2021. The government also tabled The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill, 2021, following which the Speaker adjourned the Lok Sabha for the day due to the pandemonium.

The insurance-sector bill is widely seen as a move to privatize state-run insurance companies, following the finance minister’s Union Budget 2021-22 announcement.

While presenting the budget, the finance minister had said: “We propose to take up the privatization of two public sector banks and one general insurance company in the year FY22. This would require legislative amendments, and I propose to introduce the amendments in this session (budget) itself."

The bill, however, was not introduced in the budget session held in February.

The amendments to the parent Act, the General Insurance Business (Nationalization) Act, 1972, were approved by the Modi cabinet on Wednesday. The insurance amendment bill is part of a larger divestment programme of the government, which plans to sell stakes in five state-run corporations and speed up its privatization agenda to draw in foreign investment in a covid-hit economy.

The government hopes to achieve its planned divestment target of 1.75 trillion for FY22 despite hurdles posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

A panel headed by the finance minister had cleared disinvestment and stake reduction of the country’s largest insurer Life Insurance Corporation Ltd, the first step toward the finalization of the bill. The government also cleared listing of the insurer on equity markets and initial public offerings (IPO).

The second bill, the Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill, 2021, if passed, will see the creation of a statutory panel to monitor and mitigate pollution in greater Delhi for the first time.

Farm unions have opposed an earlier ordinance to install a commission to penalize polluters. “The government should offer a subsidy for us to stop stubble-burning. Farmers don’t have an option," said Gurnam Singh Chaduni, a farm union leader currently leading protests against three recent agricultural laws.

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