*By Shubhendu Anand
The first week of the Budget Session that began with the President’s Address to the Members of both the Houses concluded with the presentation of the General Budget for 2015-16 by the Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitely on the 28th February, 2015 and laying of the same on the Table of Rajya Sabha. The inaugural week of the Budget Session began on a promising note with the Rajya Sabha passing two Bills on the first full working day on February 24, 2015. The highlight of the first week in the Lok Sabha has been the marathon 13 hour debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address and the reply of the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi before the Motion was adopted by the House. The Prime Minister in his invigorating opening remarks said, “All the honourable members have communicated their ideas in detail during the discussion.
I am grateful to all. This is a fact that this house is a Council of States. There are lots of members amongst us who have represented a particular state and during their time of representing that state, public mood was somewhat different than what it is today in the prevailing situation. Now the political situations have changed. People have changed their decision. And in that sense, from the perspective of Council of States, the representation of the sentiments of the people of those states, representation of the sentiments of the government of those states which the people have elected is a must and this is natural as well. What is more important is the state which we represent rather than the party we are representing and it is our responsibility to represent the state in the position in which it is today. And in that sense, this house will definitely honor the public opinion. The people have given mandate with a great expectation to run the government and although scope for criticism and arguments is always there, it is our collective responsibility to cooperate with each other for the betterment of our country, and I believe that we will not go back in carrying forward this collective responsibility.” Minister of Health & Family Welfare Shri J.P.Nadda made a suo-moto statement on Swine Flu in both the Houses in the first week. During the first week of the current session, the Government has moved motions for withdrawal of three Bills pending in the Rajya Sabha pertaining to allocation of coal mines through open bidding, introduction of e-rickshaws and hiking FDI in Insurance sector and the same have been put on hold further to some issues raised by the opposition members. The Government is of the view that new laws by virtue of promulgation of three related Ordinances are in force rendering the pending Bills infructuous and it is within its right to introduce new Bills in the Lok Sabha. As per the provisions of the Constitution, all the six Ordinances have to be replaced by Acts of Parliament by April 5, 2015. Parliament passes Bill to amend Citizenship Amendment Act The Citizenship Act, 1955 provides for citizenship by birth, descent, registration, naturalization and by incorporation of territory. It also provides for renunciation and termination of citizenship under certain circumstances. It contains provisions regarding registration of overseas citizens of India and their rights. Overseas citizens of India are entitled to benefits such as a multiple-entry and multipurpose life-long Indian visas.
The amendment adds grounds on which a person may register for overseas citizenship of India. These include children whose parents are Indian citizens, spouses of an Indian citizens or overseas citizens of India, among others. The amendment also brings holders of PIO or Person of Indian Origin status in line with overseas citizens of India, who are entitled to greater benefits. This is something Mr. Modi promised the Indian American community when he visited New York in September. On March 4th Parliament passed a bill to amend the Citizenship Act to remove disparity between Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cardholders. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2015 was one of the six Bills on which Ordinances had been promulgated by the ruling NDA government. The measure, passed by Lok Sabha on Monday, was adopted in the Rajya Sabha by a voice vote. Replying to the debate, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said the Ordinance was necessitated to honour Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment in the US and Australia to merge PIO and OCI cards before January 9, the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi’s return to India from South Africa. He said the only objection to the Bill was with regard to promulgation of Ordinance which was “an issue of sentiment.” “January 9, 2015 marked the completion 100 years of Mahatma Gandhi’s return to India. The Prime Minister had made an announcement in US and Australia to merge OCI and PIO cards before January 9 and, to fulfil this commitment, the ordinance was brought,” the minister said.
He said now the benefits under the PIO scheme would be extended to OCI cardholders with recognition granted to their great grand children which was earlier limited to grand children. On concerns over discrimination or harassment of the cardholders at the hands of immigration and police authorities at airports, Mr Rijiju said, “Let me assure that the entire procedure of acquisition of card is smooth.” The Government would ensure that no such things happen, he added. He said people who apply for Indian citizenship would now be allowed a 30- day break if they have to leave India for some time and their absence from the country would not affect their application for citizenship. Parliament passes the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2015 Parliament on March 11th gave nod to a Bill seeking to pave the way for plying of e-rickshaws on the roads of the National Capital Region, with the government considering a proposal to provide credit to buy these batteryoperated vehicles. The Rajya Sabha passed the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2015 to amend the 1988 Act by a voice vote.
The measure was adopted by the Lok Sabha on 3 March. Replying to the debate on the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, road transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari said not only would the poor benefit from it but it would give a boost to ‘Make in India’ initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the battery-operated vehicle was now being manufactured indigenously. On the issue of providing credit to buy e-rickshaws, Gadkari said he had approached the Finance Minister and Prime Minister and “I hope they will consider this issue.” “It is a fact that man pulling man is inhuman. Nearly one crore people are doing this. This should come to a stop,” he said, adding that one crore poor people would be benefitted by the move. Maintaining that the government wanted e-rickshaws to be owned by drivers, he said “women and physically challenged people will also be given license…. Driving licence has been made a compulsory requirement. A permanent license would be given after a year of learning.”
The Minister said it was being debated that whether an 8th standard passed person would be eligible for a license. “If not, what happens? This condition has to be thought about on a sympathetic ground,” he said. E-rickshaws or battery-operated three-wheeler vehicles had gone off roads after Delhi High Court had banned their plying in July last year on safety concerns. On January 7, President Pranab Mukherjee had promulgated an Ordinance as the Bill to regularise e-rickshaws, passed by the Lok Sabha on 18 December, had got stuck in Rajya Sabha. The Government in October last had notified the rules for plying of e-rickshaws, making driver’s licence mandatory for operating them and limiting their maximum speed to 25 kmph. While speaking on the Amendment Bill, Gadkari also said that the Government is reviewing the present driving licence issuing procedures as he admitted that about 30 per cent of the driving licences issued in the country were ‘bogus’. He also informed the House that the Government would remove all speed breakers on the national highways, as these speed breakers led to many accidents. Discussing about road accidents, Gadkari also told the Upper House that India topped the list of road accidents as over five lakh accidents take place annually in which 1.5 lakh lose their lives. The government has decided to rope in a well known cine-star to promote its ‘Rules of Roads’ campaign across the country. Key provisions of Amendment Bill-
- It brings e-carts and e-rickshaws under ambit of the parent Act, so they can ply on roads across the country.
- The Bill defines E-carts and e-rickshaws as special purpose battery powered vehicles with power up to 4000 watts and having 3 wheels. Bill mentions that these vehicles can be used for carrying goods or passengers.
- It also mentions that these vehicles should be manufactured, equipped and maintained in accordance with specifications as prescribed by the Union Government.
- The Bill exempts drivers of e-rickshaw and e-cart from the requirement of learner’s licence to drive.
- The Bill gives powers to the Union Government to make Rules on the specifications for e-carts and e-rickshaws, and the conditions and manner for issuing driving licenses.
Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill passed by the Parliament The Insurance Bill, a key reform legislation, cleared the Lok Sabha hurdle easily on March 4th 2015 but the problem of numbers in Rajya Sabha prompted the Government to say that it will convene Joint Session if it is defeated in the Upper House. The Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha after a short debate. Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha, who piloted the Bill which has been pending since 2008, said the measure was crucial for the country as “our insurance penetration is low”. The Bill will now have to pass the test of Rajya Sabha. However a seven-year long wait came to an end when the Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015 to increase foreign investment limit in local insurers to 49 percent from 26 percent. Narendra Modi led BJP Government introduced the Insurance Bill replacing the Ordinance issued last year. Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2015 and Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015 sent to select panels Two key Bills aimed at reforming the coal and mines sectors were delayed as these were referred to separate Committees of Parliament on Wednesday March 11th.
The Select Committees, set up by the Rajya Sabha, were asked to submit their reports by March 18, two days before Parliament goes for a month-long recess in the Budget Session. The 8-day tight deadline set for the Select Committees is being seen as a victory for the Modi government as in the past such committees taken as long as a couple of years to arrive at a conclusion. If the Committees give their recommendations on the designated date, it gives the Government two days to debate the Bills and then send it back to the Lok Sabha if any amendments are made. The Government can consider delaying the Budget Session break by a day because the two Ordinances are set to lapse in early April and Parliament would convene again only on 20 April. The two bills were sent to the Select Committees after the Opposition agreed to withdraw motions to defeat the Bills in the Upper House. The 19-member select committee to look into the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015 is being chaired by Bhupender Yadav of BJP. The Select Committee to look into the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2015, will be headed by Anil Madhav Dave of BJP. Earlier in this session, the Lok Sabha on March 4th, 2015 had passed the Coal Allocation Bill providing for vesting mining leases to successful bidders through a transparent bidding process. Replying to the debate on the Bill, Coal Minister Piyush Goyal said there was no provision for denationalization and workers interests will not be compromised. He said the bill has been brought to ensure continuity in coal mining operations and for promoting optimum utilization of coal resources.
The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2015, provides for allocation of coal mines and vesting the right, title and interest over mine infrastructure together with mining leases to successful bidders through a transparent bidding process. Before the house passed the Bill, amendments sponsored by the Opposition were negated. The Bill replaces an Ordinance brought by the Government in the inter-session period. “The requirement of all public sector units has been taken care of. State governments are also getting their requirement,” Goyal said.
*Shubhendu Anand a graduate of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), currently studying law at the University of Delhi, and is a Research Associate at SPMRF.