House readies for financial sector Bills

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Financial Express, August 05, 2013

UPA-II has fared mush worse than the UPA-I and NDA when it comes to executing its legislative agenda, but the deal struck with the principal Opposition party BJP on Saturday may enable it to secure Parliament?s assent for some crucial financial sector Bills in the monsoon session starting today.

Of a total 80 Bills listed as ?pending? by the UPA-II government, 44 are listed for either introduction or consideration and passing in the session. Though only a small fraction of these Bills would indeed pass muster during the session, the Pension Bill looks certain to cross the parliamentary milestone. The pension regulator came into existence in 2003 but the Bill to give it statutory powers has been hanging fire due to the contentious issue of defining the FDI cap for pension fund managers. Finance minister P Chidambaram last week got senior BJP leaders to agree to support the Bill if the FDI cap is kept at 26%. There is also a provision in the Bill to align the FDI cap with that in insurance companies and a proposal to raise the insurance FDI cap to 49% has been opposed by the parliamentary standing committee and the BJP. Chidambaram could still make a last-ditch attempt to get the insurance Bill too passed in this session.

Converting the food security ordinance into an Act

of Parliament and getting the Companies Bill ratified by the Rajya Sabha also seem likely.

With just two sessions remaining before the polls, the UPA is confronted with a pile of pending Bills including those aimed at big-bang reforms such as those related to food security, raising FDI in insurance, opening up pension, facilitating land acquisitions and setting up an anti-graft lokpal.

The track record of the UPA on legislating Bills has remained been rather tardy. While the BJP-led NDA government was able to pass 263 Bills between 1998 and 2003, UPA-I was able to enact 252 Bills between 2004 and 2009. The run rate has come down further for UPA-II, which has so far managed to pass only about 164 Bills until the Budget session of 2013.

For the monsoon session starting Monday and ending on August 30, the government has lined up 44 Bills, including the promulgation of ordinances on food security and the Securities and Exchange Board of India.

The long-pending insurance and pension Bills are likely be taken up as the government wants to lure more foreign investment to fund its current account deficit that may stay elevated at about last year?s level of 4.8% of GDP. The Land Acquisition Bill is also vital for rebooting infrastructure development and spurring growth. Although the parliamentary standing committees on finance has already presented its reports on insurance, pension and land acquisition, the government could not push through the Bills due repeated disruption of Parliament.

Data available with the Lok Sabha secretariat shows UPA-II moved 192 government Bills in the Lower House and passed 158 of them, including the conventional Finance Bills, appropriation Bills for both the general and railways budgets, in the last 13 sessions. The list gets longer if Bills pending in the Rajya Sabha are counted. Some of the Bills passed in Lok Sabha are stuck at the Rajya Sabha, such as the Companies Bill and Lokpal Bill.

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