Suspense mounts over insurance bill; Opposition demands for in-depth consideration by a Select Committee

Written by PTI | New Delhi | Updated: Aug 5 2014, 14:38pm hrs
Venkaiah NaiduA meeting of political parties convened by Venakaih Naidu failed to break the deadlock on getting the Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha. (PTI)
Suspense mounted today over passage of the Insurance Bill with Opposition parties stepping up their demand for its in-depth consideration by a Select Committee even as government hinted at a joint session of Parliament to ensure it is passed.

A meeting of political parties convened by Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu failed to break the deadlock on getting the Bill passed in the Rajya Sabha where the government does not have the required numbers.

The Bill has again not been listed for consideration tomorrow and there are indications that another meeting of political parties may be held in two days to iron out differences.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his arrival from Nepal and are believed to have apprised him of the developments on the insurance bill.

At the end of the day, Jaitley said the government will have political and constitutional remedies available to it in case Congress resorts to obstruction of the crucial legislation to allowing 49 per cent FDI in insurance sector.

He said that Congress has the option of either approving the bill, reject the bill or get the language of the bill amended but it cannot have the luxury of permanently obstructing it.

Asked about the possibility of a joint session of Parliament to get over the obstacle of lack of numbers in Rajya Sabha, he hoped that the situation does not arise.

"But we will have political and constitutional remedies available (to us)," he said in an apparent reference to the possibility of joint session of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to ensure its passage.

At best, he said, the Congress' obstruction could delay the Bill by six months because that is the maximum period under the Constitution a Bill can be stalled before a joint session is called.

Maintaining that the Congress is not well advised to resort to obstructionism, Jaitley said, the government will have to "leap over" the obstruction at some stage.

Stating that he was willing to consider modification in the language of the Bill as may be suggested by the Congress, Finance Minister said he had offered Anand Sharma of Congress to correct the language of the Bill as he wanted at the all party meeting this morning.

However, the Congress sought to keep the government on the tenter hooks, saying it should take on board all stakeholders and favoured the amendments to the Insurance Act to be considered by Select Committee before it can be take up in the winter session.

Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said the bill can be passed in winter session and we will ensure it is passed.

At the meeting convened by Naidu, differences could not be ironed out despite Finance Minister's plea that the current bill has virtually the same language and content as the previous bill of the Congress-led UPA.

While the Congress has 69 members, other parties demanding that the bill be referred to Select Committee have sizable numbers in the 245-member Upper House. Those opposing the bill total up to 133 members, while those in support of the bill are only 68.

The strength of parties is TMC 12, JD-U 12, SP 10, BSP 14, CPI-M 9 and CPI 2, RJD 1 and DMK 4.

BJD and NCP, which have come out in support of the government, have seven and six members respectively.

While BJP has only 42 members, its allies TDP has 6, Shiv Sena and SAD 3 each and RPI (Athawale) one member.

There are 11 AIADMK members, 10 nominated members, nine independents and other smaller parties together account for 12 members in the House.

After the meeting, Naidu said government told Opposition leaders that whatever meaningful suggestions come, it is willing to consider them and asked them to debate and decide the measure in this session itself.

The bill seeks to raise the FDI cap in insurance sector from 26 per cent to 49 per cent.

Naidu said the Insurance Amendment Bill was introduced in Parliament during the UPA regime and was referred to Standing Committee on Finance which spent considerable time and then made certain recommendations. The government has brought this bill after taking those recommendations into consideration.

"Some of the friends in Congress party, they say these amendments have serious implications. We told them identify what are those implications you are concerned and government will address them.

"We asked them what are your specific objections and concerns. They said they will discuss among themselves and again discuss with us. We will discuss it and I am confident that we will be able to evolve a broad consensus," he said.

The Minister said the Left has taken a principled stand that they are against FDI in any sector which government understands, but the Congress wanted FDI and it was they who proposed it.

"They brought this Bill, then both the BJP and the Congress party are on a same wavelength on this issue. And if there are apprehensions, we are ready to address them. Let us see in a day or two, I think some solution will be found to this. In a democracy any number of consultations are useful only," he said.

"The meeting remained inconclusive. We have agreed to meet again in the next two days to arrive at a consensus on the possible formulation of the legislation," NCP leader Praful Patel said, making it clear that it will support the Bill as it was a party to the decision when UPA cleared it.

The meeting was convened in the backdrop of nine opposition parties giving a notice to Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari for referring the bill to a Select Committee.