Govt plans way around Rajya Sabha logjam

The Hindu, January 02, 2015

Govt to introduce legislation in Lok Sabha first, call a joint sitting of Parliament if it gets stuck in Rajya Sabha

To overcome its numerical disadvantage in the Rajya Sabha, the government plans to introduce every bill in the Lok Sabha and eventually call a joint sitting of Parliament to get it cleared if the legislation is stonewalled in the upper House, where opposition parties have a majority.

Two ministers separately confirmed the strategy, which has been adopted after some key bills were stalled in the Rajya Sabha in the winter session that ended in December. Both ministers requested anonymity.

?Now that the insurance bill has been promulgated through an ordinance, the government can re-introduce the bill in the Lok Sabha, where it can get the bill passed due to its majority in the lower House. It can then convene a joint sitting of Parliament to get the bill passed if the bill gets stuck in the Rajya Sabha,? one of the ministers said.

According to parliamentary rules, a joint sitting of Parliament can be convened in two circumstances?in case the Lok Sabha passes a bill and the Rajya Sabha defeats it, or if the upper House sends it back to the lower House suggesting amendments the latter disagrees with.

The National Democratic Alliance has a commanding majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha with 334 seats, but is in a minority in the 245-seat Rajya Sabha, occupying just 57.

Its inability to win Rajya Sabha approval for key legislation forced the government to use executive powers and promulgate ordinances to raise the foreign investment cap in insurance to 49% from 26% and to move ahead with the reallocation and auction of cancelled coal mines. It also passed an ordinance introducing changes in the law for companies to acquire land.

Ordinances are not a permanent solution because they eventually have to be ratified by Parliament, making a joint sitting the best bet for the government to push through bills likely to be stymied by opposition parties acting in concert in the Rajya Sabha. In a joint sitting, the NDA would have a numerical advantage.

Analysts say the NDA has shown a lack of skill in parliamentary floor management to get its legislative agenda cleared.

?During the earlier NDA regime (1998-2004), the configuration of the ruling parties and the sheer width of the NDA allies gave the manoeuvring room for the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) to manage the floor and the opposition parties. Right now, the BJP is clearly lacking the expertise of political management,? said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.

?Another factor, which is adding to it, is the BJP leaving its allies alone and aggressively going into the state elections. Opposition parties expect more subtleness in such an approach and so they are reciprocating reactively,? he added.

In state elections in Maharashtra in October, the BJP broke up with its ally of 25 years? standing, the Shiv Sena. They reconciled subsequently. It also broke up with its ally in Haryana, the Haryana Janhit Congress. In both elections, the BJP formed the governments.

The BJP?s win in the April-May general elections, where it won 282 out of the 543 seats, pushed the Congress into a marginal role with 44 seats.

The result also saw a near wipeout of regional parties in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh?the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United)?which have come closer to oppose the BJP.

The passage of the insurance and coal sector legislation were blocked in the Rajya Sabha after the opposition disrupted proceedings over the issue of religious conversions; the government did not introduce the proposed amendments to the land bill in Parliament.

The ordinance to facilitate the auction of coal mines may have been necessary in the light of a deadline set by the Supreme Court, but opinion is divided over the need for use of executive powers for raising the foreign investment limit in insurance and to effect changes in the land acquisition Act.

The government plans to auction 101 coals fields in the next few months after the Supreme Court cancelled the allocation of 204 blocks, including 42 operational mines, in September.

Foreign investors will not take investment decisions based on an ordinance, said S.M. Sundaram, a partner and chief financial officer at Baring Private Equity Partners India.

?When substantive investments are involved, foreign investors will wait for some concrete action by the government that is backed by legislative intent rather than just an ordinance that will eventually need to be constituted into a law,? he said. ?So far the intent of the government is in the right direction but more needs to be done on the ground.?

The insurance ordinance will enable foreign companies to raise their stake in Indian insurance joint ventures. Since the ordinance will have to be legislated, companies may wait for the passage of the bill in Parliament for greater certainty.

The proposed changes in the land law will make it easier to acquire land in five key sectors including defence, infrastructure, power and affordable housing.

According to Mrug, while clearing legislation through ordinances reduces the government?s credibility, it also sends across a positive message that it is determined to push through the reforms. ?The larger message which goes out is that they are not in control and this is something that hurts the business sentiment,? he said.

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