UPA govt
The credibility cliff
By KV Prasad
The UPA government has a heavy agenda for the Parliament session beginning on November 22, but even support from some of its allies is not a given, and not all opponents may be a threat. This is one declamation contest where the speeches will be written as they are delivered

Pending Bills: Till debate do us part
There is a pile of Bills that is pending in both Houses of Parliament, awaiting consideration and passage. These include a slew of proposed legislation related to fighting corruption, introducing greater transparency in government procurement, social welfare, farm sector and other issues. Here’s a look at some of the more crucial ones pending:







UPA govt
The credibility cliff
By KV Prasad

The UPA government has a heavy agenda for the Parliament session beginning on November 22, but even support from some of its allies is not a given, and not all opponents may be a threat. This is one declamation contest where the speeches will be written as they are delivered

For the past few days an air of suspense has been building up as to how politics will play out during the winter session of Parliament opening this week. Will both the Houses function without disruptions? Will the government be able to push through its agenda on important legislation and send the right signals? How far will the Opposition go to test the strength of the ruling coalition? Finally, will the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government survive?

Doubts such as these have arisen in the wake of the strident voices from among the parties in the Opposition, agitated on several decisions of the Manmohan Singh government over the past few months, especially those meant to re-ignite economic reforms.

Functioning of Parliament has not been smooth since November-December 2010, when the entire winter session was lost with the Opposition demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the 2G spectrum allocation after the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) estimated a whopping Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss to the national exchequer. The government had then refused to concede, resulting in no work.

Since then repeated adjournments on issues of corruption or on issues that political parties sought to highlight have led to frequent disruptions. Statistics on the Lok Sabha website show that 124.40 hours were lost during the sixth session (November 9-December 13, 2010) and 76.21 hours in the ninth session (November 22-December 21, 2011) during the  life of the current House. Not a healthy sign for the upcoming session then!

Political turbulence

The ruling coalition at the Centre has been facing turbulence in Parliament following irregularities pointed out by the government auditors on the Commonwealth Games, then the coal block allocations, Delhi Airport, and the gas blocks standoff between the government and a leading industrial house.

The 2011 winter session saw an overhang of the Anna Hazare movement in its quest for a Lokpal, eventually ending in an abrupt adjournment of the Rajya Sabha at the stroke of midnight on December 29.

Adding strength to the ongoing political storm were recent decisions of the government to permit foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retailing, introduction of a cap on the supply of subsidised cooking gas cylinders, increase in the price of diesel and proposed amendments to the insurance Act raising the FDI limit to 49 per cent.

On its part, the government is clear that it is time to take “hard decisions”, buffeted as it is by a slowing economy, growing gap between imports and exports, countering accusation of being afflicted by “policy paralysis” and doing everything to avoid India being rated as a “junk” economy by international agencies.

Be it the Congress Core Group or the Union Council of Ministers, both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram have underscored the compulsions to prevent the economy from going into a tailspin. The prevailing international scenario is much worse, with the United States battling to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’ and Euro Zone in ‘recession’.

As late as Friday, the Finance Minister described as “challenged” the country’s economic situation, but stressed it was much better when compared to other international economies. “Only this morning you have read that Euro Zone is formally in recession. We are nowhere near that situation. The Indian economy is still growing at 5.5 per cent… our goal is to tide this difficult period and end the year on a reasonably satisfactory note…. I hope the growth will revive and move on to the high-growth track.”

At the first meeting of the newly reconstituted Council of Ministers, the Finance Minister sought cooperation from his colleagues, recommending tightening of the belt and promising a friendlier budget next year. With revenue collections not showing up as expected, the government is already bracing for budget cuts even as it has told ministries and departments not to spend on non-priority items.

The dilemma

The government is at the crossroads. On one hand is the need to demonstrate it retains grip on the economy amid slowdown and turn it on to the path of high-growth trajectory, and on the other ensure its survival is not jeopardised in the wake of delicate parliamentary arithmetic and growing distance with alliance partners.

Needing 272 MPs for a simple majority in a House of 545, the Congress-led UPA is technically in a minority after the Trinamool Congress with its 19 MPs snapped ties with the ruling coalition at the Centre. The government's supporters figure stands slightly over 250 MPs, including eight MPs of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) that to the embarrassment of the UPA recently joined hands with the Opposition in protest against FDI in retail. At such a crucial juncture, the importance of outside support by the Samajwadi Party with its 22 MPs and the Bahujan Samaj Party with 21 for the UPA to remain in comfort zone cannot be overstated. It is this vulnerability that the Opposition seeks to leverage for its demands.

Aiming to corner the government in Parliament, the Left parties have declared its intention of forcing a discussion on FDI in retail under rules that entails voting. The BJP and its allies too are opposed to FDI in retail but unsure on the set of rules under which a debate be held.

“Let all those who opposed the FDI decide. The SP has been with us in the past while the DMK joined the September 20 protest,” CPI national secretary D. Raja countered when pointed out contradictory signals.

On his part, commenting on FDI, a hopeful Finance Minister Chidambaram said: “My suggestion is that no single issue be blown out of proportion. There are many important issues that concern the welfare of the people and future of the country.”

Strategy in Parliament

Aware of the need to carry along parties with competing interests while pushing through its legislative agenda, political managers of the Congress are going the extra mile to work with those across the political divide.

“The Parliament session has a very heavy legislative agenda. We are reaching out to the various political parties to carry these through in the four weeks that we have for the session,” Chidambaram said.

The statement reflected on the ground with Prime Minister holding exclusive meetings with leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, besides a dinner for UPA partners that was attended by the DMK, signalling unity of purpose.

To start with, almost the entire Opposition has stated that the intention is to have a healthy and informed debate in Parliament on FDI in retail, which could happen only when the Houses function. The thrust and focus is clear, but there is confusion within the Opposition on the tactics.

The collective mood after the UPA allies’ dinner on Friday can be summed up as “Discussion on FDI: Yes. Under Rules that ends with a vote: No”. The Congress managers appear guided by the parliamentary dictum, “While the Opposition can have its say, the government must have its way.”

Former Rajya Sabha Secretary General VK Agnihotri recently deconstructed it to mean that while the Opposition can discuss and debate issues it is the responsibility of the government to push through its business. The spirit of mutual accommodation and not political grandstanding is the hallmark of parliamentary work.

Question of survival

It is not yet clear whether the Trinamool Congress threat of moving a motion of no confidence will materialise. As per Rule 198 of the Lok Sabha, at least 50 MPs have to move the motion before it can be considered for admission while Union Minister Kapil Sibal maintains: “When the motion is brought before the House, we will face it”.

A senior member of the Congress told The Tribune that its own assessment is that barring the Trinamool Congress, no other political party in Parliament is ready for early elections, indicating the absence of any immediate threat.

The government’s confidence was in a way articulated by Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari who asserted: “Ever since the UPA-2 government was formed, there have been no two months without talk of mid-term polls. As far as we are concerned, we have the mandate for five years and we intend to look at elections in 2014”.

As for the Left insistence of having a debate on FDI in retail under rules that entail voting, there are several imponderables. One, the presiding officers of both the Houses will have to take a view, which in the Rajya Sabha is done in concurrence with the government.

Even before acceding to the demand, the government often attempts to negotiate the wording of the text so that in case the resolution is carried, it does not sound like Parliament rapping the knuckles of the executive. There is enough opportunity for the government to work its way through but that would require skilful political management so as not to upset the delicately-poised UPA applecart.



Pending Bills: Till debate do us part

There is a pile of Bills that is pending in both Houses of Parliament, awaiting consideration and passage. These include a slew of proposed legislation related to fighting corruption, introducing greater transparency in government procurement, social welfare, farm sector and other issues. Here’s a look at some of the more crucial ones pending:


Lokpal and lokayuktas Bill
Passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2011, the Bill awaits consideration by the Rajya Sabha, which has not taken it up awaiting reconciliation of differences between the government and the Opposition. Chairman Hamid Ansari had abruptly adjourned the House on December 29, 2011, at the stroke of midnight. The government makes periodic noises about its intent to have it passed.

Reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and legislative assemblies
Passed by the Rajya Sabha under controversial circumstances after protesting MPs were physically evicted in March 2010, the Constitutional Amendment Bill lies in the Lok Sabha. The Congress-led UPA claimed it demonstrated the commitment of the party to empowering women by reserving one-third of the seats in Parliament and state assemblies, but sharp differences have resulted in a stalemate.

Right of citizens for time-bound delivery of goods and services and redressal of grievances Bill
This is aimed at setting minimum time limits in which citizens should be provided services. It is awaiting consideration of the report of the Standing Committee submitted in August 2012.

Whistleblowers protection Bill
Drafted by the government in the wake of hue and cry over the murder of several people, including engineer Manjunath for detecting illegal sale of adulterated petrol, the Bill has been passed by the Lok Sabha.


The higher education and research Bill
Known as the “Kapil Sibal Bill”, it was moved in the Rajya Sabha last December and a report of the Standing Committee is expected by November-end this year. The Bill seeks to establish a “national commission for higher education and research” to facilitate determination and maintenance of standards of higher education and research in all areas except agricultural education. The University Grants Commission Act, 1956; the All India Council for Technical Education Act, 1987; and the National Council for Teacher Education Act, 1993, would be repealed within a year of this Act coming into force.

The universities for research and innovation Bill
This proposed legislation seeks to allow the Central government to set up universities for research and innovation through notifications. These universities shall be enabled to emerge as hubs of education, research and innovation. They may also establish campuses in foreign countries. The Bill has been referred to the Standing Committee and its report is expected this session.

The national commission for human resources for health Bill
Moved by Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in the Rajya Sabha last December, the House has to consider the Bill in the backdrop of the report submitted by the Standing Committee that scrutinised it. The Bill seeks to establish a mechanism to determine and regulate the standard of health education in the country. It shall repeal the Indian Nursing Council Act, 1947; the Pharmacy Act, 1948; the Dentists Act, 1948; and the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, on a date decided by the Central government. The Bill seeks to set up the National Commission for Human Resources for Health (NCHRH), National Board for Health Education, and the National Evaluation and Assessment Council. It would also establish various professional councils at the national and state levels and an NCHRH Fund to meet expenses.


Street vendors (protection of livelihood and regulation of street vending) Bill
Introduced this year, the Bill is under scrutiny of the Parliamentary Committee. It aims to regulate street vending by making it mandatory for vendors to register with a town vending authority and seek licence to hawk goods and food.

The prohibition of employment of manual scavengers and their
rehabilitation Bill
This is yet another social welfare measure moved by the government this year. This Bill too is under study by the Parliamentary Standing Committee concerned.

The communal violence (prevention, control and rehabilitation of victims) Bill
Envisaged to prevent riots, this Bill allows the state government to notify an area as communally disturbed. It doubles the punishment for certain crimes and provides for special courts. It also establishes a system for the rehabilitation of victims. Introduced in 2005 in the Rajya Sabha, the Bill is stuck over political differences.


The Piracy Bill
Introduced in April last year in the Lok Sabha by then External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, the Bill has to be taken up by the House for its consideration. The Standing Committee has submitted its report on the Bill that intends to fill the gap that exists in the IPC in which piracy is not included as a crime. This has led to problems for law enforcing authorities to prosecute pirates. It makes it applicable to India’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which stretches 200 nautical miles from the coastlines.


The seeds Bill, 2004
The Seeds Bill seeks to regulate the production, distribution and sale of seeds. It requires every seller of seeds (including farmers) to meet certain standards. The Standing Committee has recommended that farmers selling or exchanging seeds from other farmers be exempt from this requirement. The Bill has been pending since December 2004. The government proposed new amendments in April 2010 and November 2010, accepting most of the recommendations. It has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

The Seeds Bill seeks to regulate the production, distribution and sale of seeds.
The Seeds Bill seeks to regulate the production, distribution and sale of seeds.

Pesticides Bill, 2008
This was introduced in October 2008, and the Standing Committee reported it back in February 2009. It aims to promote safe use of pesticides, and seeks to regulate the manufacture, testing and distribution of pesticides. It establishes a system of licensing as well as the setting up of a registration committee to register pesticides.

— KV Prasad



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