Insurance Bill set to clear Rajya Sabha hurdle, Congres likely to give support

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New Delhi | March 12, 2015 11:29 AM

The Narendra Modi government can expect some relief on Insurance Laws Amendment Bill, which is likely to come in Rajya Sabha...

Insurance Bill, Insurance Bill in Rajya Sabha, Rajya Sabha, Rajya Sabha Insurance Bill, Congres Rajya Sabha, business newsMoS Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi speaks in the Rajya Sabha in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo

The Narendra Modi government can expect some relief on Insurance Laws Amendment Bill, which is likely to come in Rajya Sabha on Thursday for consideration and passage, with main Opposition party Congress appearing willing to support it on the measure.

The Insurance Bill, which aims at increasing the cap on foreign direct investment (FDI) in the public sector insurance companies from 26 to 49 per cent was passed by Lok Sabha last week.

Left is totally opposed to the bill. Factoring in this principled stand of Left on the FDI, Government has decided to move ahead and bring the bill in Rajya Sabha tomorrow after talking to other Opposition parties.

The issue came up for discussion in a meeting held by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley with leaders of all parties in Rajya Sabha in the morning, which saw Government agreeing to opposition’s demands of referring the Coal and Mines bill and the Mines and Minerals bill to Select Committee of the Upper House that will submit recommendations by March 18, two days before the House goes for a recess.

The bills that the government wants to push through Parliament in the first half of the budget session are the Land Acquisition Bill, Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, Insurance Laws Amendment Bill, The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill 2015, Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill and Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.

They will replace the Ordinances issued by the government on these subjects. However, they have to be converted into bills before the recess as they will expire by April 5 otherwise.

Sources indicated that Opposition parties including Congress have made it clear to the government that they won’t support it on land bill.

Congress has, however, refrained from adopting a hardline approach on insurance bill, which was first brought during the UPA’s tenure.

“Insurance bill is different. It has gone through Select Committee. There could be a unanimity on insurance,” said a senior leader from the Opposition block.

The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 4 after a short debate. The bill will now have to pass the test of Rajya Sabha where BJP and its allies do not have majority and the government is critically dependent on the support of the Congress.

It was sent to a 15-member select committee of the Rajya Sabha headed by Chandan Mitra of BJP in August 2014. The government brought the ordinance on it in December, which it now seeks to replace with a bill.

Congress, which brought the original bill way back in 2008, has so far been ambiguous on supporting the measure saying while the party is “not against the bill per se” but is “opposed to the methodology, style and manner in which it has been brought bypassing Parliament.”

Congress had earlier indicated that it will not obstruct the passage of the Insurance Bill as it was in principle the UPA’s “baby”.

The bill, one of the key reform legislations, has been pending since 2008.

The BJP had opposed the Insurance Bill when UPA had tabled it in the Rajya Sabha.

The bill provides for imprisonment of up to 10 years for selling policies without registration with the regulator IRDA.

The proposed legislation will also allow PSU general insurers to raise funds from the capital market and provides for increased penalty to deter multilevel marketing of insurance products.

Opposition has so far been united in opposing the government on issues including land ordinance.

Realising the uphill task that the government faces in Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha, had talked about convening a joint session to get it passed.

“If Insurance Bill is defeated in Rajya Sabha… it will open an opportunity for a Joint Session of Parliament,” he had said soon after the legislation was passed by Lok Sabha last week. He, had, however expressed hope that Congress would support it.

There are now indications that while Left will oppose the bill tooth and nail, Congress and some other parties could criticise the government for bringing Ordinance but may not vote against the bill.

To a question on whether other some parties supporting the insurance bill even when Left opposes it will not give an impression of Opposition unity breaking, the leader said that Left’s opposition on this issue is their principled stand for long and they had opposed FDI measures of the UPA-I government as well when they were supporting it from outside.

“It, therefore, does mean breaking the Opposition unity,” the leader said.

The leader also claimed that the import of the government’s decision to refer the bills on coal and mines and minerals are indicative of the Opposition unity.

Sources in Congress said that there is, however, little possibility of the passage of the land bill and Government may be forced to re-promulgate the Ordinance.

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