The monsoon session of Parliament will kick off on Monday with a rather heavy legislative agenda, even as the Opposition is determined to put the government in the dock over a clutch of issues ranging from price rise to alleged mishandling of the second Covid wave. In the session scheduled to have just 19 sittings, as many as 26 Bills are listed for consideration and passing, while more could be tabled including key amendments to the relevant laws to facilitate privatisation of a couple of public sector banks and one general insurers in the current financial year, according to sources.
Observers of legislative processes have taken a dim view of a growing trend of high-impact Bills securing Parliament’s assent without much parliamentary debate or scrutiny (see chart), but government managers contend that efficiency of law-making should not be held hostage to ‘unseemly politicking’.
Of the Bills listed for the session to end on August 13, 17 are new, including the one seeking changes to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) to ratify the so-called ‘pre-pack’ resolution scheme for MSMEs and the Bill to introduce enabling provisions in the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Act for ‘universal pension coverage’. Another new legislation will be through the Limited Liability Partnership (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to decriminalise 12 compoundable offences relating to procedural and technical violations by LLP managers.
Under the changes proposed in IBC, only the debtor will get to trigger its own bankruptcy process under the pre-pack insolvency scheme for MSMEs. The new scheme will also yield much faster resolution, cost less and reduce litigation, which are often triggered by defaulting promoters to retain control of their firms. To file for pre-pack insolvency, the MSME debtor will require the approval of unrelated financial creditors accounting for at least 66% of dues. Honest promoters will be allowed to submit the base plan for resolution, which will then be put to competitive bidding through Swiss challenge.
Sources said, to facilitate the proposed privatisation of state-run banks, the government may also introduce, in the last moment, bills to amend or repeal the Banking Companies (Acquisition and Transfer of Undertakings) Acts of 1970 and 1980 (Nationalisation Acts). While these Bill are not listed yet, official sources indicated that work on them is in full swing. The voting rights cap of 10% for a non-government shareholder irrespective of her shareholding is a hindrance for privatisation of public sector banks, sources said. In the Budget FY22 speech, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the government’s plan to privatise two public sector banks this fiscal. Central Bank of India and Indian Overseas Bank are likely candidates for it, in sync with Niti Aayog’s suggestions.
Another Bill which is not listed but could be taken up during the monsoon session is the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019; the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Bill is expected to submit its report by the first week of the session.
The government also plans to seek the passage of the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2021. Under this, the Centre may set a 90-day time-frame for customers to be able to have access to their deposits up to an insured amount of Rs 5 lakh if their banks go bust or withdrawals are restricted. In the Budget for FY21, the government had announced raising the limit of bank deposits insured under the DICGC Act to Rs 5 lakh from Rs 1 lakh. The move is aimed at ensuring timely support to depositors of stressed banks and offer some relief to people in the aftermath of the fraud at Punjab and Maharashtra Co-operative Bank. Even customers of Yes Bank had to face difficulties in withdrawing their money after the moratorium was imposed.
The objective of the PFRDA (Amendment) Bill, 2021 is to have a system of automatic enrollment of employees in a pension scheme — EPFO, NPS or any other — at the time of joining a firm. The proposed changes are in sync with the Social Security Code under which the government could also roll out schemes for the weaker sections of the working population. The proposed schemes seems to draw inspiration from the UK where employers have to ensure that people are auto-enrolled in the pension scheme at the time of entering a job and will have a choice to discontinue it. In practice, vast majority of workers don’t opt to quit the pension schemes.
With corporatisation of ordnance factories on the cards, the Essential Defence Service Bill, 2021 will turn to a central Act for Essential Defence Services to provide the Union government power to ensure non-interrupted supply of arms, ammunition and other goods and services to the Armed Forces in case of strike by workers.
The Chartered Accountants, the Cost and Works Accountants and the Company Secretaries (Amendment) Bill, 2021 aims to reform and speed up the disciplinary mechanism of the institutes concerned. The Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Amendment) Bill, 2021 seeks to make the system of laying of pipelines for transportation of petroleum and minerals, robust.
Under the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, incumbent state-run discoms will have to “provide non-discriminatory access to their distribution system to all discoms registered within the same area of supply”, in return for wheeling charges to be determined by state power regulators. It will also prescribe rights and duties of consumers. The Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Amendment Bill, 2021, will allow land acquisition for commercial coal mining by private sector players.
The Budget session of Parliament was held from January 29, 2021 to March 25, 2021 with a total 24 sittings after adjusting for a recess and early conclusion of the session than planned. During that session, 13 legislative Bills were introduced and 11 were passed excluding the seven Appropriation and Finance Bills, which were also passed. On average, Lok Sabha passed a Bill 10 days after introduction and Rajya Sabha passed Bills after 3 days. On an average, Lok Sabha discussed a Bill for 2.5 hours before passing it, while Rajya Sabha discussed a Bill for 2 hours before passing it, according to PRS Legislative Research. Of the 13 Bills introduced in the Budget session, not even one was referred to the Parliamentary Committee.
Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram said last week that the Opposition would focus on the high inflation — annual change in consumer price index remained above the Reserve Bank of India’s comfort range 2-6% for the second straight month June — and seek a discussion on the matter in both the Houses.