The UPA-Left Coordination Committee meeting once again found itself in a deadlock on the pension fund bill that the government is keen to bring in the winter session of Parliament, starting November 22. There was also no agreement on the issues of rolling back petrol and diesel prices and amending the Special Economic Zone Act.
Left leaders — including the CPI-M’s Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury and CPI’s A.B. Bardhan — went for the meeting with the agenda that the government reduce petrol and diesel prices by Rs 4 and Rs 2, respectively, following the decline in global crude prices. They also demanded amendments to the SEZ Act so it caps the land allotted and increases the compensation paid to farmers.
No decision was taken on the first issue. As for the second, the Left, which believes SEZs are turning out to be a land-grab operation, will forward their suggestions to the Group of Ministers for consideration. Referring to the case of Vedanta University in Orissa, where 10,000 hectares has been applied for, Left sources said: “The area will stretch from Konarak to Puri. We are opposed to such kind of SEZs.”
A major part of the three-hour interaction was devoted to the pension regulatory fund bill. And as it had been on a previous occasion on October 4, there was no meeting ground on the issue when the two sides met at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence. Congress president Sonia Gandhi was also present along with Union ministers Pranab Mukherjee, Shivraj Patil and P. Chidambaram among others..
According to the sources, there were heated exchanges on the issue with even the Prime Minister being vocal about the government’s stand.
In October, the government had offered to park the savings of government employees in public sector units, a proposal rejected by the Left and trade unions . “The question is where will the funds go from there,” Karat had asked on the eve of the UPA-Left meeting. The communists also want a minimum 50 per cent of the last drawn salary paid as pension.
The only time the two sides agreed to anything at the meeting was on bringing the tribal and women’s reservation bills in the winter session. The decision on the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill came on a day when the GoM met to discuss the issues to be included in it, following differences between the Tribal Affairs Ministry and Joint Parliamentary Committee on certain crucial points This included identifying the beneficiary of the bill, the cut-off date from which recommendations are to be effected, allotment of land for forest dwellings and the dispute redressal mechanism
The decision to table the Women’s bill — which promises to earmark one-third of the seats in Lok Sabha and the state assemblies for women — was taken at the October 4 meeting itself.