Cracks in Oppn may help govt push reform agenda

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 23 2012, 10:52am hrs
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Parliaments's winter session kicked off on a stormy note on Thursday primarily over the government's decision to allow FDI in retail, but divisions among parties outside the ruling coalition prevented any real threat to it, reviving hopes that the reform agenda might not be thwarted this time around.

While the ruling UPA's ally-turned-foe Mamata Banerjee's attempt to bring a no-confidence motion failed due to sheer lack of numbers, government managers got all parties to agree to a meeting on Monday to discuss how the session could be salvaged.

Although the BJP did not publicly retract from its demand for a discussion on the decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail under Rule 184 which entails voting in the Lok Sabha, indications are that it might relent before Monday's meeting and settle for a debate without voting. Sources said the principal opposition party is keen to avoid the blame of pursuing an obstructionist agenda, given that its wholesale disruption of the monsoon drew flak from many quarters. The BJP, anxious to keep its reformist credentials, could find it embarrassing to be seen as being on board with the Left parties which have a firm anti-reform stance.

Working against a political calendar, the government is desperately banking on the current session to push its reformist legislative agenda and rev up the slowing economy. Prime minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday reminded all parties of a heavy legislative agenda and sought their cooperation to address the issues and challenges that we face as a nation. He said the government was ready to discuss all issues in both Houses.

Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath who had earlier said the government was willing to accommodate the demand for a discussion but cannot be pressed on its timing and manner has called a meeting of all party-leaders of both Houses on Monday.

Senior government functionaries including commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma a key proponent of the policy to allow FDI in multi-brand retail had asserted that voting cannot be allowed on an executive decision. The retail FDI policy is one that is cast in stone, and it required no endorsement from opposition parties, Sharma had said.

As agitated members of SP, BSP and Trinamool Congress stormed the well, Lok Sabha was adjourned twice before being adjourned for the day in the afternoon. Rajya Sabha called it a day after one adjournment forced by BSP and Trinamool.

The government's economic agenda for the winter session includes hiking the FDI limit in insurance from 26% to 49% the move could address capital constraints in the sector which needs an estimated $10-12 billion for expansion and allowing FDI up to the same level in pension where foreign investment is barred now. Among the Bills listed for consideration are Banking Laws Amendment Bill which will pave way for RBI to start issuing new bank licences and the Companies Bill which seeks to usher in a regime of non-intrusive regulation of corporates, balanced with greater shareholder democracy and more disclosure requirements. Tax reforms (the GST Constitutional Amendment Bill and Direct Taxes Code), an industry-friendly Land Acquisition Bill are listed for passing. Key governance reforms Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill as also the Constitution (117th Amendment) Bill for reservation to SC/ST in government jobs are also on the Winter session's agenda.

CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury accused the government of violating its assurance given in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively by then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and commerce minister Anand Sharma last December that FDI in retail would be implemented after consultations with all stakeholders,including political parties and state governments. The Left parties have insisted on a discussion entailing voting in both houses over FDI in retail.