The fate of a slew of reform Bills that have had a roller-coaster ride over the country’s tumultuous political terrain over the last many years looked uncertain again as Parliament did not transact any business for the third day on Monday, raising the spectre of the winter session being a casualty like the monsoon session, which was completely washed out.
At a meeting on Monday, parties failed to reach a consensus on how a discussion will be held in Parliament over the recent decision to allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail. Most parties opposed to the decision, including the BJP, AIADMK, BJD, Left, TDP and JD(S), insisted on a discussion under rules entailing voting. With the government in no mood to relent, this amplified the chances that these parties might continue to disrupt parliamentary proceedings over the issue in the coming days, putting the reform Bills in jeopardy.
The SP and BSP, however, provided solace to the ruling combine by taking the ambiguous — and likely favourable — stand that the decision on whether to have voting can be left to the chairs of both Houses.
The Trinamool Congress, which last week made an unsuccessful bid to move a no-confidence motion over the FDI issue, exhibited its fickleness once again by not insisting on voting and said the chair should decide the rule under which discussion could take place.
Parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath said after the all-party meeting that the Speaker would decide if voting could be done. Commerce minister Anand Sharma urged the Oppositions parties to reconsider their demand for discussion under Rule 184, which entails voting. “The power to convene a debate on any issue rests with Speaker of the Lok Sabha and vice chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, and let them decide the future course of action,” Sharma said.
Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, however, said: “There will be no compromise on (discussion under Rule) 184.”
Taking a different line, BSP chief Mayawati said: “We must allow the Parliament to function as some vital legislations are pending before it.”
Several reform Bills are listed for the winter session. These include the insurance Bill seeking to increase the FDI limit from 26% to 49% – the move could address capital constraints in the sector which needs an estimated $10-12 billion for expansion – and the pension Bill allowing FDI up to the same level in pension. Other Bills listed for consideration include the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, which will pave the way for the Reserve Bank of India to start issuing new bank licences, and the Companies Bill that seeks to usher in a regime of non-intrusive regulation of corporates, balanced with greater shareholder democracy and more disclosure requirements. Legislation regarding tax reforms (the GST Constitutional Amendment Bill and Direct Taxes Code) and an industry-friendly Land Acquisition Bill are also listed for passing. Key governance reforms – the 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.