Govt. struck by Opposition unity

Coal ordinance likely again; Insurance Bill may have to wait

Updated - November 17, 2021 04:24 am IST

Published - December 21, 2014 12:44 am IST - NEW DELHI

If the Modi government has used its majority in the Lok Sabha in the ongoing Winter Session to push through as much legislative business as possible, the Opposition has deployed its superior numbers in the Rajya Sabha to hold the BJP accountable for communal statements by its members.

Last week in the Upper House, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley accused the Opposition of displaying the “arrogance of numbers.” CPI(M) member Sitaram Yechury’s riposte was that the government was exercising its “tyranny of the majority” in the Lower House.

With two days left for the end of the session, its just-concluded fourth week was dominated by the Opposition’s demand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi give an explanation for the objectionable statements by various BJP MPs and the ghar vapsi camps.

Mr. Modi refused to oblige, apparently because it was felt there was no guarantee that it would satisfy the Opposition, sources said.

By not responding to the Opposition, however, the government, in a way, has walked into a trap by giving the latter an opportunity to block its key reforms agenda. It looked unlikely that the government would be able to clear the Insurance Bill or the Coal Mines Bill, though the latter has already been approved by the Lok Sabha.

Rare show of consensus

In the case of the Insurance Bill, the government stood a good chance of getting it through the Rajya Sabha, given the fact that the Congress is backing it. But with the Prime Minister refusing to give an explanation, the government has succeeded in uniting nine Opposition parties in the House — the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Janata Dal(U), the BSP, the DMK, the CPI(M) and the CPI and the CPI.

The government has taken its revenge in the Lok Sabha by springing key Bills on the Opposition without discussing them in the Business Advisory Committee (BAC), even bypassing the mandatory seven-day notice necessary to allow MPs to study the provisions of the draft laws. The rules stress that exceptions are permitted with the permission of the Speaker but, by convention, they are meant to be the exception rather than the rule.

In the last four weeks, the Bills that came up in this manner included the Repealing and Amending (Second) Bill (December 3), the Payment and Settlement Systems (Amendment) Bill (December 8), the National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws Bill (December 15), and the Goods and Services Tax Bill (December 19).

On Friday, when the contentious GST Bill, which requires a constitutional amendment, came up in the Lok Sabha, the Opposition protested again. Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, quoting his colleagues from other Opposition parties, said it had neither been brought in the BAC nor had the seven-day notice been given by the government, though it was a Constitution amendment Bill. The government’s contention is that the Bill was just being introduced.

As the government gears up for the last two days, it looks unlikely that Opposition unity will break in the Rajya Sabha. Now, the government may have to re-promulgate the coal ordinance and wait till the Budget session to try and legislate the Insurance Bill.

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