The first two days of the coming week will decide what the Modi government can list as its major achievements on completion of one year in office.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Naxalite-affected Dantewada region to West Bengal, a region that from his government’s perspective is politically sensitive. By going to Kolkata and sharing the dais with Mamata Banerjee -- to launch three social security schemes for ordinary citizens -- he is trying to display his stated belief in political bi-partisanship.
His other colleagues have also travelled to various parts of the country to show the ruling BJP’s association with these schemes. Even as most senior leaders have been travelling off to their home states, they are bracing for the challenges that lay ahead when Parliament opens on Monday.
The government which despite opposition from the Congress and some other parties has extended the Lok Sabha session by three working days till May 13, has to ensure that the business in both Houses are conducted smoothly and as per the listed plan.
For the floor managers of the ruling NDA, the days ahead are hectic and tough, testing their nerve and grit, as also their ability to win friends. Since the three most difficult bills for the NDA – GST (122nd Constitutional amendment bill) is listed in Rajya Sabha on Monday and Land Acquisition Bill and Black Money, Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (imposition of tax) Bill in Lok Sabha – they will have to be on the toes all the time.
Their task is manifold -- winning new friends in Rajya Sabha for passage of GST bill in Rajya Sabha, ensuring that their own allies are on board in Lok Sabha on land acquisition bill and most importantly ensure that they have right numbers in both the Houses because on all three days next week for passage of the bills.
The problem compounds in the Rajya Sabha where even if the ruling BJP strategists are able to isolate Congress and the AIADMK, which are continue insisting that the GST bill should be sent to Select Committee, it would require (since this is a constitution amendment bill) that a simple majority of the total strength of the House vote and two third of present and voting, vote in favour of the bill. In Rajya Sabha, the NDA is in a minority. Of the Upper House’s total strength of 244, the Congress has 68 and AIADMK has 11 members.
The government also has to ensure the House functions. The Congress had disrupted proceedings of Rajya Sabha demanding resignation of Highways and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari because the CAG report had made some adverse observations against Purti, the company which he had once promoted.
Since the politically contentious ordinance on the land acquisition has been re-promulgated incorporating the nine amendments passed earlier by the Lok Sabha, it has to be ratified once again by the same House. Though the government have clear majority numbers in Lok Sabha and passage of this bill should not have any problem but then the intervening period has also seen unseasonal rains in parts of the country and mounting consequent loses on the farmers.
While the government argues on merits and insists that all nine amendments, incorporated in the ordinance, have taken care of the concerns of the farmers and opposing political groups, the opposition led by the Congress have been able to turn it into a perception issue against the government. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has reportedly rescheduled his visit to Telangana to ensure his presence in the Parliament when the Land bill is taken up for discussion.
Given the current political alignment on the subject, it is possible that the government might yield a bit and agree to joint committee of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha for further scrutiny. If that happens then the government would have time to get other bills passed, as listed in the business for extended session. These bills include Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, Appropriation Acts Repeal Bill, Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets Bill, Negotiable Instruments (amendment) bill, National Waterways bill, Micro, Medium, Small Enterprises bill and so on. Lok Sabha would get two additional hours of first half of the business for discussion and passage of the bill, as there would be no question and zero hour during the two or three days of extended session.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu is hopeful that the government would be able to muster support of required numbers in Rajya Sabha for passage of the GST bill, said to be single biggest tax reform bill in recent times. But the Congress is insisting that it must be sent to the select committee of that House for further examination. The Congress, which otherwise supported the bill, had walked out of Lok Sabha during voting after its demand to send the bill to Standing Committee.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who is piloting the GST bill has consistently taken the stand that there was no need for the bill to be sent to the parliamentary panel. “The Bill went to the Standing Committee in 2011. The Standing Committee discussed it for two and a half years. A Bill is not a dancing instrument that it will jump from Standing Committee to Standing Committee. Once I accepted the recommendations of the Standing Committee, what is the rationale of sending it back to reconsider that recommendation again to standing committee,” Jaitley said.
The GST, which intends to create a single tax structure across the country, has been debated over the last 12 years. The Kelkar Committee was appointed by the NDA Government in the year 2003. The recommendations formed part of Budget Speech of UPA government in 2006. Thereafter, an Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers was formed, discussion papers were mooted and an adequate amount of discussion went on in the whole system. In March, 2011 again the UPA introduced the 115th Amendment to the Constitution. Now, after this, that amendment went up for consultations. It went to the Empowered Committee of the Finance Ministers and to the Standing Committee.
The treasury benches have lately been making friendly gestures to the Congress. Even as some ministers took on Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi during Zero Hour discussions on floor of the House, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley went to opposition benches in Lok Sabha and thanked their leaders including Sonia Gandhi for their support in passage of GST and constitutional amendment in Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh. Modi government also dropped its opposition to inclusion of Assam from purview of this bill and agreed to pass it in the same format as was proposed by the previous UPA regime. On Friday after some exchanges in Rajya Sabha, it yielded to Congress’s demand to expunge some remarks made by Food Processing Minister Harshimrat Kaur against Rahul Gandhi.
But leaders of both sides are keeping their fingers crossed as to how things may proceed on Monday. Modi government to keen to get at least one of the two, GST and Land acquisition bill passed to record its achievements on slightly buoyant note. That would also make second half of the budget session go down in record book as one of the most productive sessions of Parliament. Something that the first half of the budget session has already done.
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Updated Date: May 11, 2015 08:10:01 IST