Parliament’s Budget Session last week disposed of substantial government business, after the near wash-out of most business in the previous week, when the Session resumed after a break.
While there was confrontation between the Government and the Opposition on frequent increases in petroleum prices earlier, the last week had stormy scenes in the Rajya Sabha over consideration and passing of the Insurance Amendment Bill, 2021 which proposes raising foreign direct investment (FDI) in the sector from 49 per cent to 74 per cent.
The Bill was passed despite the Opposition demanding its reference to a Select Committee. Deputy Chairman Harivansh ruled that members had not given any notice for this in advance, and so their request could not be entertained. After several adjournments before the discussion, the Opposition staged a walk-out when the Bill was passed.
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman made out a strong case for raising FDI in the sector, giving vital data how the private sector had contributed to employment and a positive growth of the sector.
She said the Opposition’s fears were groundless as all FDI-rich entities would be subject to Indian laws, their key management persons like directors would be resident Indians, and a specified percentage of profits would remain in India.
The Upper House passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill, 2020 too after rejecting several members’ demands for referring it to a House Select Committee for wider consultations.
A controversial Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday pertained to the Lt Governor’s role in Delhi’s governance. The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment), Bill, 2021 seeks to amend the 1991 Act on the subject and provides that the opinion of the Lt Governor has to be taken on issues specified by him in a general or specific order.
The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2021 was introduced in the Lok Sabha after Opposition by Shashi Tharoor (Congress) saying the Bill fails to acknowledge the adverse impact on environment and biodiversity by stipulating automatic transfer of rights, approvals, clearances and licences from previous lease holders to the new owners. This is a violation of the Constitution, he said. Tharoor said the Bill threatens the life and wellbeing of the people residing in close proximity to the mines by doing away with the requirement to obtain fresh permits despite change in prevailing conditions.
The Bill impinges upon the federal structural of the States as prescribed by the Constitution by awarding the power to the Central Government alone to auction of mines owned by the States, thereby encroaching upon the rights exercised by the States to hold auctions, he said.
The Parliamentary affairs, coal and mines minister Pralhad Joshi said the member could not oppose the Bill as regulation of mines and mineral development, under the Constitution’s List-I of subjects was assigned to the Union Government. The Bill was passed on Friday after Joshi assured members there was no dilution of States powers and all revenues under the law would go to them only.
The Lok Sabha cleared substantial financial business by clearing the demands for grants of all Central ministries, although discussions were held on a select few, including the railways, health and education.
Discussing the railways, the members expressed concern over growing “privatisation.” Railway minister Piyush Goyal said the private capital would only help improving services. There was concern over not enough funds to implement the New Education Policy during the Education Ministry debate. Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said Rs 6,000 crores were allocated for higher education alone.
Concerns were expressed on Covid-19 during the Health Ministry discussion. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the country had become selfreliant in testing of the virus, production of masks, PPEs, ventilators and the vaccine. The Lok Sabha passed Budgets of the Jammu and Kashmir and Puducherry Union Territories.