Short of a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government on Monday reached out to the Opposition to help replace key ordinances with Parliament-approved laws. Meanwhile, opposition to the land ordinance gained momentum.
The government sought Opposition help in enacting “progressive” laws through President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to a joint sitting of both Houses at the start of the Budget session.
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The President revealed the government agenda of going for expenditure reforms and implementation of key recommendations of the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission (FSLRC).
“My government will constantly endeavour for smooth conduct of legislative business and enactment of progressive laws in Parliament,” Mukherjee said as he urged MPs to discharge their solemn responsibility in a spirit of cooperation and mutual accommodation.
As social activist Anna Hazare started a two-day agitation against the land ordinance, the President made an effort to sell the law as pro-farmer. “My government attaches paramount importance to safeguarding the interest of farmers and families affected by land acquisition,” he said, outlining policies of the nine-month-old government.
Hazare accused the government of antipathy towards farmers. The Opposition did not appear to be in a mood to dance to the government tune, saying there was nothing new in the President’s speech.
Mukherjee highlighted positive aspects of another ordinance on raising the cap on foreign direct investment to 49 per cent from the existing 26 per cent in private insurance companies, saying the ordinance would safeguard Indian ownership and control and at the same time enhance capital availability along with access to insurance services.
The Bill to replace the insurance ordinance is pending in the upper House. Most of the other laws to replace ordinances are likely to come up in the Lok Sabha. Copies of six ordinances promulgated recently were laid before the lower House on Monday amid protests by some members against the government’s use of ordinances.
Besides those on land and insurance, the ordinances included those on auction of coal blocks, e-rickshaws, mines and minerals, and amendment of the Citizenship Act to merge the status of OCI and PIO cards. As the Budget is widely expected to reform the subsidy regime, the President said, “While my government has intensified efforts to bring greater efficiency and equity into the tax system, prudence in expenditure management is also high on the agenda.”
To reform indirect taxes, the government tabled the constitutional (amendment) Bill on the goods and services tax during Lok Sabha’s winter session. The President reminded MPs of this. The Bill needs to be passed with a two-third majority in both Houses, after which the assent of at least 15 states is needed.
The government congratulated itself for making India the fastest growing large economy. Notably, much of the growth has come due to the revision of the GDP base year from 2004-05 to 2011-12 and the new definition of gross domestic product that includes indirect taxes (net of subsidies). The President also lauded the government’s efforts to bring down inflation.
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