A late Wednesday evening letter from Trinamool Congress leader and railway minister Mukul Roy to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee derailed the pension fund bill at the union cabinet meeting on Thursday.
Clearing key amendments to the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill, 2011 was the UPA government’s first economic reforms initiative after it faced heat over policy paralysis from the Congress Working Committee three days ago.
According to sources, cabinet secretary Ajit Seth merely said “item number three (pension bill) is deferred” even as some ministers at the cabinet meeting looked at each other and Mukherjee remained silent.
The bill was deferred just a day after the Prime Minister held a meeting and set deadlines for projects to give a boost to infrastructure and reverse the economic slowdown. Roy, who heads a key infrastructure sector, was absent from the meeting.
Roy’s letter to Singh and Mukherjee said Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee feels the bill should not be pushed without “broad-based political consensus”.
In December 2011, a similar letter from Banerjee — then railway minister — had forced the government to drop the item from its cabinet agenda.
Roy’s letter also said there was no Trinamool representative in the parliamentary standing committee on finance when the bill was discussed last year.
The railway minister was present at Thursday's meeting but kept quiet on the issue.
The amendments to the PFRDA bill aim to retain the cap on foreign direct investment at 26%. It allows the pensioner to demand minimum assured returns on his money.
Some cabinet members feel the Trinamool Congress should be given a deadline to express its views and a final call taken on the bill, which has been stuck in Parliament since last year even though the BJP is ready to pass it.