NDA buys time for itself on land, GST bills

Livemint, May 13, 2015

The government, under pressure from the opposition, was forced to defer its plans to legislate land acquisition and goods and services tax (GST) laws.

Both have been referred to parliamentary committees.

While the GST bill will be reviewed by a select committee of the Rajya Sabha, the land acquisition bill will be scrutinized by 30-member joint committee of Parliament.

The good news for the government is that it has managed to buy some time to make a fresh case for its new land law before the committee, in which it will hold the majority voice.

At the same time, the delay does impact the credibility of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to push reform initiatives requiring legislation. It also casts a cloud on its ability to roll out the GST as promised on 1 April 2016.

Though the government lobbied hard, even managing to extend the budget session by three days, the opposition did not relent.

Primeā€ŠMinister Narendra Modi has repeatedly backed the new law and even went to the extent of admitting in a recent interview to Dainik Jagran newspaper that the 2013 legislation approved with the backing of the BJP was flawed.

?It would have been impossible to start irrigation projects for farmers without the amendments. It was after 120 years that there was discussion to change the law but did we even spend 120 hours on the discussion? The earlier bill was brought in a hurry. Almost all chief ministers have told me that it needs to be amended,? Modi had said in the interview.

The joint committee will have 20 Members of Parliament (MPs) of the Lok Sabha and 10 MPs of Rajya Sabha, the Parliament was informed on Tuesday.

The Upper House will also give names of the MPs who will be part of the joint committee.

?The government is ready to listen to suggestions of all political parties, chief ministers and other stakeholders. We will also talk to farmer unions and labour unions in the course of the meetings of the committee. The suggestions of the joint committee will be part of the bill. This bill is in the interest of the farmers, and it is also important for the development of the country,? said Chaudhary Birender Singh, Union minister of rural development, Panchayati Raj, sanitation and drinking water, while moving the motion to form the committee.

The Lok Sabha unanimously adopted a motion to send the land bill to a joint committee. Some of its members from the Lok Sabha include Surendrajeet Singh Ahluwalia of BJP, Anandrao Adsul of the Shiv Sena, Rajeev Satav of the Congress and Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Explaining the provisions for a joint committee, Subhash Kashyap, constitutional expert and former secretary general of the Lok Sabha, said: ?A joint committee is ad-hoc committee which is formed on a particular issue. The committee has MPs of both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in 2:1 proportion. There?ve been several instances in the past when a joint committee has been formed; it is also called joint parliamentary committee. Many of the standing committee of Parliament are also joint committees since they have members of both the Houses.?

However, for BJP, it is a source of concern that some members of the NDA like Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Shiv Sena and the Swabhimani Paksha (SWP) have worries about the proposed land bill.

The Congress, which was in two minds on joining the joint committee, finally came around. The party in the past two months has rallied around the issue of the land acquisition and farm distress. ?It took us two long years to get the land bill, but the NDA government took only a few days to kill it…we will not allow (passage of the bill) here (in Parliament). If not, we will oppose it outside on the street,? Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said in the Lok Sabha earlier in the day while leading his party?s charge.

The Congress held a mega rally in the national capital last month on the issue of land acquisition and several leaders say the focus on opposing the land bill has helped its chances of revival.

On the land issue alone, Rahul Gandhi, in the past 20 days, visited Punjab and Maharashtra and will travel to Telangana later this week.
Political analysts say the NDA is trying to ?buy time? to come up with a political strategy to overcome its lack of numbers in the Rajya Sabha.

?Prime Minister Modi knows that his party doesn?t have the required numbers in the Rajya Sabha so this bill cannot be passed. He has been meeting many different regional leaders. Recently, he also met West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The formation of a joint committee is only an attempt of Modi to buy time so that he can win over the opposition leaders. Even if the BJP is unable to win over the opposition, the party will try to divide the opposition to pass the bill,? said Bidyut Chakrabarty, a New Delhi-based political analyst and professor at Delhi University.

An opposition member nominated to the joint committee maintained the government may prevail in its intent and carry the committee with it.

Meanwhile, the government and the opposition parties on Tuesday also agreed to refer the constitutional amendment bill on GST to a 21-member select committee of the Rajya Sabha.

The committee will submit its report on the last day of the first week of Parliament?s monsoon session, reviving hopes for the timely roll-out of GST.

The committee will be headed by Bhupendra Yadav, a BJP MP and a party general secretary.

The members of major political parties, including the BJP, SAD, Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Janata Dal (United), will be represented in the committee.

After passing the bill in the Lok Sabha, the government has faced problems in the Upper House. The Congress, along with All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Left parties, had insisted on a select committee.

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