Climate change casts cloud over Budget session

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 13 2012, 07:53am hrs
As Parliament reconvened on Monday for the Budget session, the shadow of the recently-concluded election results in five states loomed large over the prospects of not just a peaceful session but also the fate of several reform-oriented decisions and bills which were to be taken up after the polls. A sense of unease about the new political climate is something the UPA leadership seemed to share even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hurriedly announced a dinner for UPA allies on Tuesday night in order to shore up confidence and numbers for the Budget.

Of course, earlier in the day, Singh had said the government had all the numbers that are needed, adding it was willing to discuss and debate all issues on the floor of the House. It is, however, unmistakable that the polls have strengthened and increased the manoeuvring space of not only UPA allies like Samajwadi Party but also NDA partner Akali Dal. This comes in the backdrop of several concerted moves by non-BJP, non-Congress chief ministers taking on the Centre on issues of federalism and taxation.

A conspicuous absence from the legislative business for the Budget session was the Food Security Bill, even as bills on pension reforms and land acquisition figured among those for consideration and passing. Also on the agenda of the Budget session are bills to hike FDI cap in insurance from 26% to 49% and to align voting rights of shareholders in banks in proportion with their equity holding.

The public debt management agency bill too is slated to be introduced in the session.

States, especially those ruled by the NDA, are demanding Centres approval for many of their pending legislative business as as a quid pro quo for lending support to crucial reforms including taxation. They also want the spirit of federalism to remain intact when it comes to the Centres initiatives like the National Counter Terrorism Centre.

Minister of state for PMO V Narayanswamy tried to explain what is seen as the abandoning of the reform agenda. We cannot bulldoze reforms, we will have to speak to our allies, he said. It was a worry which was reflected in President Pratibha Patils address to both Houses. The first paragraph of her speech spoke of cooperation between the government and the opposition for reforms like the Direct Taxes Code (DTC) and the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has managed to secure the BJPs support for DTC by speaking extensively to BJP president Nitin Gadkari and chairman of the standing committee on finance Yashwant Sinha, but the road to GST remains blocked.

We are in favour of DTC. We feel transparency in tax matters will lead to development, but the government cannot expect similar cooperation from us on the GST. Our states have worries over compensation (linked to the CST phaseout and the GST introduction), and several of our bills are pending with the Centre, awaiting clearance. Cooperation is not a one-way street, said BJP president Nitin Gadkari.

Over 20 bills, mostly from BJP-ruled states are pending with the home ministry for presidential assent after being referred to it by various state governors. These include the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime (GUJCOC) and a similar Bill in Madhya Pradesh MP Terrorism and Disruptive Activities and Control of Organised Crime (MPTDACOC), apart from a cooperatives society bill from Chhattisgarh and a bill pertaining to education from Bihar.

What has upset the BJP was also the prosecution of former Gujarat home minister Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin encounter case. The one chief minister who could have helped the government out on reforms was Narendra Modi, and the government does everything to antagonise him, said a senior BJP leader.

On Monday, aware of the changed reality within and outside Parliament, government managers like Ahmad Patel and Rajiv Shukla were said to be frantically dialling Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP leader Satish Mishras number to build bridges.

As for the other big reform measure which was supposed to be implemented just as soon as results were out, namely FDI in retail, the Trinamool Congress, which opposed it tooth and nail, let out a warning statement. The government is stable; we are with the UPA. We can have differences on issues, but these can be discussed, said leader of the parliamentary party in the Lok Sabha Sudeip Bandhypadhyaya.