A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the passage of key bills in the second half of the budget session of Parliament as a tussle between the Opposition and government is set to slow down legislative business.
With just four days remaining for the Lok Sabha to wind up business and seven days for the Rajya Sabha, chances of the passage of significant reform legislation such as the land acquisition, real estate, goods and services tax and juvenile justice bills look increasingly bleak.
Racing against time, the government is making every effort to pass at least the Indo-Bangladesh land boundary agreement and black money bills in this session after it succeeded in pushing through the long-awaited insurance, mines and coal block bills in the first half of the budget session through crafty negotiations with the Opposition.
“We have these six key bills high in our agenda. But we are staring at the possibility that a majority of them do not get clearance of both Houses of Parliament,” said a government source.
The Congress, at loggerheads with the Centre over the land bill amendments, has hardened its position on the real estate and GST bill. With party vice-president Rahul Gandhi taking up the cause of farmers and home buyers, an intensified battle is expected over these bills.
Adding to the woes of the NDA government, the BJP has not been able to convince some of its allies like the Shiv Sena and fence-sitters like the AIADMK and BJD to support many of these bills.
“The black money bill can’t be treated as a money bill (which doesn’t require the Rajya Sabha’s approval). We also want the bill to be sent to a parliamentary panel for review,” said the Congress deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma.
“We are not opposed to the GST bill per se. But will try to push it to a select committee,” said senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh. Last week, Congress president Sonia Gandhi led her party to stage a walk-out when the debate on the GST bill started in the Lok Sabha.
Without the support of the Congress, the Left and the Trinamool Congress, it will be nearly impossible to pass legislation that needs Constitution amendments such as the GST or land boundary bills. A Constitution amendment bill requires the presence of at least 50% of the members and the support of two-thirds of them.
The government plans to bring an enabling bill for ratifying the land boundary agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh early this week with a strict timeline in mind to take the bilateral ties with Dhaka forward, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s possible visit in June. According to government sources, once the bill gets passed, India will get down to implementing the exchange of enclaves, a key step in solving the boundary issue with Bangladesh, pending since 1974. Bangladesh has 111 Indian enclaves in four districts spread over 17,000 acres while West Bengal has 51 Bangladeshi enclaves spread over 7,110 acres.
Though the Trinamool Congress has come on board on the LBA, the Congress remains sceptical on keeping Assam off the plans. Under pressure from the BJP state unit, the government has de-linked Assam from the plans. Assam was set to lose around 268 acres, in the earlier plans to settle a disputed 6.1 km stretch. According to the revised plan, the Indo-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) will now involve West Bengal, Tripura and Meghalaya on the Indian side.