Parliament clears coal & mines Bills

Business Standard, March 21, 2015

Two Bills central to economic reform – the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2015, & the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015 – were passed by the Rajya Sabha on Friday, after prolonged wrangling and a race against time.

The coal Bill loosens the mining monopoly of state-owned Coal India, while the mines Bill imparts greater transparency to the sector and bestows greater financial autonomy to states with mineral-bearing mines.

In the Rajya Sabha, 117 members voted for and 69 against the mines Bill. It was passed with an amendment recommended by a select committee. This required the Bill to be resent to the Lok Sabha, where it was passed with a voice vote. The coal Bill was passed without any amendments, though after several moved by Left parties and Congress were defeated. While 107 members were in favour of the coal Bill, 62 voted against.

These Bills have crossed the legislative twilight zone of ordinances and now become legislation. If the House had not passed the Bills on Friday, the government would have had to repromulgate the ordinances through which the legislative changes were effected, leading to a loss of face.

The passage of the two Bills is a significant political victory for the government in the Rajya Sabha, where it does not have a majority. This was acknowledged even by Deputy Chairman P J Kurien, who observed with a smile after Opposition members demanded division (party-wise voting) on several clauses that “there has been some conversion”.

This followed a huge effort by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley through Thursday night, persuading Opposition members the two Bills would be good for the country.

The focus of attention were members belonging to non-Congress, non-Left parties like Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Samajwadi Party (SP).

In fact, on Thursday, BJD opposed the mining Bill, saying it infringed on the rights of states – a stand earlier supported by Congress and Trinamool Congress. But on Friday, TMC, BJD and SP supported it.

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