Govt hopes smooth Parliament session

Business Standard, November 20, 2014

Hopes to table as many as a dozen Bills in the first week of the session that starts on Monday

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government anticipates a frenetic but non-confrontational winter session of Parliament. It hopes to table as many as a dozen bills in the first week of the session that starts on Monday, and views the coming session as an opportunity to push through its reformist agenda.

“The government will push its reforms agenda in the winter session. We will attempt to reach consensus on most issues, and expect the Opposition to adopt a non-confrontational approach on issues of national interest,” a highly placed source in the Narendra Modi-led government told Business Standard.

The government is likely to achieve this “non-confrontational consensus” by not tabling any contentious legislation like the bill to amend the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, or the Real Estate Regulation and Development Bill. Even the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill will be tabled only by mid-session after discussions with other political parties. The GST Bill will require the NDA to build a consensus, given that it needs to be passed with a two-thirds majority. The NDA is woefully short of the majority mark in the Rajya Sabha.

The three Bills were discussed along with the entire pending legislative agenda during a meeting of secretaries of all government departments on Tuesday. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley chaired the meeting as Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu is on an official overseas tour. The land bill is currently with the cabinet. Earlier this week, Jaitley said the GST Bill would indeed be tabled during the winter session. The meeting on Tuesday discussed 86 bills at various stages of legislative process, including drafting, with the cabinet, or with any of the parliamentary committees.

Of the bills likely to be tabled, the government is hopeful of getting parliamentary assent for the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill to replace the ordinance on the subject on the first day of the session, on November 24. This will be followed by the Rajya Sabha approving a resolution to fill the vacancies in the House select committee currently studying the Insurance (Amendment) Bill.

Legislation to raise foreign direct investment in the insurance sector to 49 per cent from 26 per cent was passed by the Lok Sabha but is currently being studied by a select committee of the Rajya Sabha headed by BJP MP Chandan Mitra. Two of its members, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and JP Nadda, are now ministers in the Modi cabinet. The BJP has proposed the names of VP Singh Badnore from Rajasthan and Rangasayee Ramakrishna from Karnataka as their replacements.

The committee is to give its report by the end of the first week of the session. Sources said the government was confident of support from major opposition parties on key Bills and was sure it would not need to call a joint session to ensure their passage.

Senior leaders dismissed conjectures that the threat of a joint session was now largely neutralised given that the Shiv Sena’s continuance in the NDA was uncertain. The NDA, including the Speaker, has 393 MPs in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. The halfway mark in a joint session (Lok Sabha’s 543 and 241 current MPs of Rajya Sabha) is 392. The Shiv Sena quitting the government would mean the NDA is short by 21 MPs. The Sena has 18 MPs in the Lok Sabha and three in the Rajya Sabha.

According to sources the BJP is confident the Sena will continue to be in the alliance at the Centre and will soon restore its alliance with the BJP in Maharashtra.

The Modi government is likely to push its reformist agenda with more determination during the Budget session, given that no Assembly elections are slated until the end of 2015.

The BJP is emboldened by its electoral victories in Maharashtra and Haryana, but is alert to the five-phase assembly elections in Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir that will be in progress during the the winter session of Parliament, while Delhi assembly elections are to be concluded before mid-February.

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