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HindustanTimes Mon,29 Dec 2014

Govt calls all-party meet today to save insurance bill

Saubhadra Chatterji & Kumar Uttam, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, August 05, 2014
First Published: 21:42 IST(5/8/2014) | Last Updated: 10:30 IST(6/8/2014)

The government will call a second all-party meeting on Wednesday in a bid to break the deadlock over the controversial insurance bill with an unrelenting Opposition refusing to give its nod to the new Prime Minister’s first major reform move.

On Monday, the government was forced to defer its plans to move the bill in the Rajya Sabha because it did not have the numbers in the house, delaying plans to increase the foreign direct investment limit in insurance to 49% from 26%.

“We are opposed to it. We want the bill be sent to the select committee so that we are able to express our concern,” AIADMK leader V Maitreyan told HT after the Opposition sent a notice to Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari on Tuesday to send the insurance bill to a select committee.

The government needs the support of at least five opposition parties — the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, AIADMK, Biju Janata Dal and Trinamool Congress — in the Rajya Sabha where the NDA only has about 60 members.

But Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool denied any possibility of his party supporting the bill.

The NDA can push through the bill if the Congress agrees to back the legislation, but the Congress is sticking to its demand for a review by a select panel with representatives from all parties even though the government has said it is open to incorporating its amendments.

The Congress strategy is to stall the bill to prevent Modi from going to the US next month with the showpiece reformist legislation under his hat. The PM is to meet US President Barak Obama on September 30 in Washington.

Constitutional experts say the government’s best bet is to push the bill through an ordinance.

“After the House is prorogued, the government can prepare a fresh bill and enact it through an ordinance,” former Lok Sabha secretary general P Sreedharan said.

Political circles were abuzz with talk of a joint session of Parliament — rarely used —- to push the bill through on the strength of the NDA’s majority in the Lok Sabha, but experts say that is not possible.

“As long as the bill remains undecided in Rajya Sabha, calling a joint session is not possible as per the Constitution,” ex-law secretary and former Lok Sabha’s secretary general TK Vishwanathan said.

India opened the insurance sector to foreign investment with a 26% cap in 2000 when the BJP led the government. In 2008, the Congress-led government proposed 49% foreign, but it could not win parliamentary approval because of the BJP’s opposition.

Today, critics accuse the Congress of blocking the bill drafted by its own UPA government. “They prevented us for six years from passing the bill. Why can’t the government wait for two more months until the winter session of Parliament?” Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said.

But party vice-president Rahul Gandhi denied the accusation: “I think there are no double standards on the insurance bill by the Congress.”


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