All eyes on Rajya Sabha; no separate vote on Fema

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SummaryThe ruling UPA regime seemed poised to win a vote on allowing foreign-owned supermarkets and related amendments in Foreign Exchange Management Act in Lok Sabha on Wednesday with likely co-operation from Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party.

The ruling UPA regime seemed poised to win a vote on allowing foreign-owned supermarkets and related amendments in Foreign Exchange Management Act in Lok Sabha on Wednesday with likely co-operation from Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP). But a vote in the Upper House on Friday where the ruling coalition is in minority seems a very close call. Losing a vote will embarrass the government but not endanger it.

Both the BSP and SP on Monday reiterated their opposition to FDI in retail, but did not seem inclined to vote against the government.

Leader of the opposition in the Lower House BJP’s Sushma Swaraj attacked the Congress Party-led coalition, questioning claims that foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail will create 40 lakh jobs. Stating that the decision will benefit China while hurting interests of Indian traders and farmers, Swaraj said the experience of countries that implemented FDI in retail has not been good.

Telecom minister Kapil Sibal countered opposition arguments saying it was “foolish” to presume presence of foreign retails will kill small retailers in Indian cities. Multi-brand retail FDI requires a minimum initial investment of $100 million, the minister said.

Lok Sabha speaker Speaker Meira Kumar rejected the demand from BJP and Left parties for separate discussion and voting on FDI in retail and amendments to Fema.

The Speaker ruled that the debate on FDI and Fema will be held together after which vote can take place separately on Wednesday. Commerce minister Anand Sharma will reply to the discussion before the vote.

Congress Party, which earlier managed to convince ally DMK, seemed to have struck a bargain with BSP on the issue in return for pushing a Bill that allows reservation for scheduled castes and tribes in government job promotions. If BSP and SP abstain from voting in Lok Sabha, the majority requirement in the 545 set house may come down to 251 from 273, while those oppose FDI have a strength of about 219. In the 244 member Rajya Sabha too, where voting is expected on Friday, the ruling coalition which has only 94 members will need outside support of independents and other parties. BSP and SP together have 24 MPs in the House.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said small traders would not be able to compete with big retailers. He said the decision to allow foreign-owned supermarkets would lead to unemployment. “With Lok Sabha elections near, FDI in retail sector might not be politically correct for the Congress,” he said during the debate, while urging the government to drop the decision.

Any move by the government to club the voting on FDI in retail and the RBI amendments to FEMA on the same issue would be “highly irregular” and contrary to the law, CPI(M) said. Senior leader Sitaram Yechury said his party would not only move amendments to the RBI amendments to FEMA, but could also seek the annulment of the notification allowing FDI in multi-brand retail.

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