Arun Jaitley hints at joint sitting of Parliament to push ordinances

Mint, January 10, 2015

Finance minister Arun Jaitley has hinted that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance may call a joint sitting of Parliament to push through coal and land acquisition reform ordinances.

In an interview with Open magazine, when asked whether his government will convene a joint sitting of Parliament, Jaitley said: ?There is a constitutional provision (for it). We will go ahead and resort to all procedures in the Constitution for legislating on the measures that we have planned.?

Jaitley said an ordinance is both parliamentary and democratic. Some critics have said it is a tool to bypass Parliament.

?The Constitution provides for it. Both houses of Parliament have to approve it. We bring ordinances only when there is an element of urgency. And in the three ordinances (that have been) promulgated, there was extreme urgency. The changes that (have been) brought in the coal sector are aimed at facilitating a transparent and non-discretionary method of allocation of coal blocks. It will enhance the potential of the sector and cut down the cost of power.?

Criticising the opposition parties which stalled proceedings of the Rajya Sabha during the winter session, Jaitley said parties in the opposition have made obstructionism their principal tool of politics. ?If the Rajya Sabha is not allowed to function, the nation cannot stop functioning.?

The NDA has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha but has only 57 members in the 245-member Rajya Sabha. In both Houses together, it has 387 of 788 members.

The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2014, passed by the Lok Sabha on 12 December, was vehemently opposed in the Rajya Sabha by most opposition parties, including the Congress, which wanted it to be referred to a parliamentary standing committee for further consultations.

The legislation seeks to replace an ordinance brought by the central government in October to comply with the Supreme Court?s ruling that cancelled the allotment of more than 200 coal blocks made between 1993 and 2010. The ordinance, which received presidential assent on 21 October, listed the procedure for fresh bidding by companies for the mines. If a joint sitting of the lower and upper houses takes place, it will only be the fourth in India?s parliamentary history. In past instances, the Dowry Prohibition Act was passed on 9 May 1961; the Banking Service Commission Repeal Bill was passed on 16 May in 1978 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002, was passed on 26 March 2002.

Asked about the West Bengal government?s stand that it would not implement the amendments made to the land acquisition Act through the ordinance, Jaitley said the state government is free to do so. ?But in an era of competitive federalism, these obstructionist positions will only hurt the state. It will deprive people of the state of decent infrastructure facilities.?

The Union cabinet last month used its executive powers to make it easier to acquire land in five key sectors including security and defence, infrastructure, power and affordable housing, though it left the level of compensation unchanged. Indian industry has been lobbying for dilution of the so-called restrictive rules defined by the land acquisition law put in place by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

Jaitley said those only the ?reality-challenged? can support the Land Act of the UPA Government. ?Creation of smart cities, townships, industrial corridors, business centres, defence projects, cantonments, ports, nuclear installations, building of highways, irrigation projects and dams have long gestation periods. They cannot be completed in five years. If the provisions of the UPA bill were in place, they cannot be completed in five years. We would have been a nation of incomplete projects because of defectively drafted legislation,? he added.

On the state of the Indian economy, Jaitley said the challenge is to expedite investment. ?The green shoots (in the economy) are already visible. But they have been patchy. The green shoots have to become a pattern. And that is when I can say that our growth trajectory is much faster. We are moving up, and we have to move up a lot more,? he added.

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