Many Congress members, including Manmohan and Sonia, not present in Lok Sabha

A day after a heated discussion took place in Parliament on the WikiLeaks disclosures published in The Hindu, it was business as usual in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. Speaker Meira Kumar went through the process of ‘Papers to be laid on the Table' and then got down to the legislative business, including the introduction of the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill, 2011.

As soon as she called out Minister of State for Finance Namo Narain Meena, standing for Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, to introduce the Bill, CPI (M) leader Basudeb Acharia stood up, opposing the introduction of the Bill and demanding a division, taking the Treasury Benches by surprise.

Only a handful of Ministers were present, including Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, along with his deputy V. Narayanasamy. Caught unawares, the treasury benches too wore a rather thin look, enough for the government to sense trouble. Both the Ministers went up to National Democratic Alliance working chairman L.K. Advani and Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, and talked to them. It became clear that the main Opposition BJP would come to the government's rescue.

Mr. Bansal cited Rule 72 on the government's legislative competence to introduce the Bill and sought to know the grounds on which Mr. Acharia was opposing it, but the CPI(M) leader refused to budge from his demand for division.

The Speaker ordered division when Mr. Acharia further pressed for it. “We are opposing the introduction of the bill. I am asking for division instead of a voice vote,” Mr. Acharia said.

Of the 159 members present in the 543-member House, 115 voted for introduction of the bill and 43 opposed it, while one abstained. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, several Ministers and Congress members were not present.

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Raghuvansh Prasad was heard saying that when the Speaker had already ordered division, it could not be rolled back.

The bill provides for the establishment of an authority to promote old-age income security by creating, developing and regulating pension funds and to protect the interests of subscribers to pension fund schemes.

It seeks to empower the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) to regulate the National Pension System, as amended from time to time and perform promotional, developmental and regulatory functions relating to pension funds and authorise it to levy fees for services and impose penalties for any violation of the provisions of the legislation, rules, regulations.

The PFRDA Bill, 2011 is broadly based on the PFRDA Bill, 2005, as modified by the official amendments to the Bill the government proposed in January 2009.