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Govt bows in Rajya Sabha, ready to send mines bill to select panel

Source: PTI
Last updated on: March 11, 2015 09:02 IST
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Faced with the prospect of yet another embarrassment in Rajya Sabha, Government on Tuesday night bowed to the opposition demand for sending the Mines and Minerals bill to a Select Committee after hours of battle of wits between rival sides.

In the House, where BJP and its allies are woefully short of numbers, the government tried to stonewall the opposition demand for sending the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015 to a Select Committee and kept pressing for its passage.

However, the opposition then moved amendments, creating the possibility of putting the government in an embarrassing situation as the ruling coalition is in a minority and the amendments would have got adopted.

The government is now insisting on a 7 day deadline for the select committee to give its report, but the opposition has said the government cannot dictate the tenure of a committee, which may need time to study the various aspects of the bill since it relates to tribals and the poor.

The government then agreed to refer the bill to a Select Committee, warding off an embarrassment after having faced such a situation in the House only last week when an opposition amendment to the Motion of Thanks to the President's Address was adopted.

A marathon debate was seen in the House, with leaders from both sides including lawyers like Jaitley, Anand Sharma and Ashwini Kumar citing rules and conventions of Parliament to hammer home their point.

Deputy Chairman P J Kurien, who faced a ticklish task as both sides stuck to their arguments and the House virtually became a court room, finally settled the matter.

"On the basis of consensus in the House, I am not putting the motion to vote. Tomorrow morning the Leader of House, Leader of Opposition, leaders of parties and Parliamentary Affairs will meet and finalise the names and the time frame (of the Select Committee)."

As the government insisted that the bill needed to be passed urgently as an ordinance brought on the issue will lapse, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad suggested a way out.

He said the bill should be sent to a Select Committee and in the meanwhile the government could re-promulgate an ordinance after the current session of Parliament comes to an end in May.

As the battle of wits continued, CPI-M's P Rajeeve insisted on voting on his motion to bring amendments in the bill.

At this, Leader of House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley rose to counter it saying the motion to refer the matter to a Select Committee has become infructuous as Rajeeve is proposed to be a member of the Select Committee that has been suggested.

Citing a ruling of 1952, Jaitley, an erudite lawyer, said those who are proposed to be members of a Select Committee should not speak on the motion of the reference of sending it to the panel.

He also said the motion to set up the Select Committee does not have the representation from the ruling party and as such is not representative of the House.

As the House grappled for a way out of the statemate, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said there are two ways for a solution now since the motion moved by Rajeeve has become infructuous.

He said either the Chair can put the bill to vote or postpone the matter till on Wednesday by when the Chair, the Leader of House and the Leader of Opposition can come out with a revised motion for referring the bill to the select committee with a 7-day time since the first half of the budget session is only till March 20 and the Ordinace will lapse on April 6 if it was not replaced by the law.

Sharad Yadav (JD-U) earlier said it will be better if the bill is sent to the Select Committee, which gives its report in a time frame of 10 days or so.

P Rajeeve said he will move amendments if the bill was not sent to the Select Committee.

Naidu said he was in agreement with Yadav's views but wanted a lesser timeframe arguing that the ordinace will otherwise lapse.

He said a way out could be that the timeframe should be limited to seven days so that the law could be enacted to replace the Ordinance by March 20, when Parliament goes for a recess.

Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, however, had a different view on the matter and wanted a longer time for the Select Committee to consider the issue. He said the government can re-promulgate the ordinance.

On the motion moved by P Rajeeve and JD Seelam and Shantaram Naik to refer the matter to a Select Committee, Naidu said if the motion is put to vote, it will create a very bad and awkward situation.

Kurien, while making it clear that he is not getting into the legalities of the motion, said once moved, it has become property of the House and only the House can withdraw it.

The ruling side also contended that the motion to set up a Select Committee does not have any members from the treasury benches.

Jaitley said the motion is prima facie defective as it includes the members of only a section of the House. "His motion has become infructuous. It cannot be put to vote. Rajeeve's motion has sunk.

As Opposition members insisted on voting on the motion, Jaitley said, "if you want only a section of the House to represent it, if you want such an absurdity, so be it. Please go ahead with it."

Kurien said he himself will feel "guilty" to pass a motion like this as it did not represent the entire House.

Countering Jaitley, Congress leader Anand Sharma said rules of Rajya Sabha were framed in 1964, which will take precedence over the ruling of 1952 which the minister was referring.

Earlier moving the bill for passage, Mines and Steel Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the bill should be executed in toto to boost employment and improve the economy.

He said the mining sector suffered during the UPA regime due to decisions taken on 2G spectrum and coal allocation issues. Even iron ore production and export has also come down in 2013-14 when compared to 2010 level.

Noting that the NDA government started addressing the problems facing the mining sector soon after it came to power, the minister said the government decided to bring amendments to the bill after consultation with states.

The amendments were brought keeping three things in mind -- transparency, encouraging mining while preserving environment, and allowing exploration in mines to boost production, he added.

Stating that the UPA government had adopted auction process with wrong intention, the minister said the NDA will not "compromise" on auction process as the government is thinking on the path of development for the benefit of people.

Earlier in the day, the Rajya Sabha saw several adjournments as the government and opposition benches sparred over rules when the House was to take up a bill to amend Mines Act amid demands for sending it to a Select Committee of Parliament.

Trouble started as soon as Steel and Mines Minister Narendra Singh Tomar moved the motion for the passage of the bill.

An amendment was moved by several opposition members including Jesudasu Seelam (Congress) and P Rajeeve (CPI M), who wanted the Bill to be referred to a Select Committee.

Treasury benches held that there should be a discussion on the bill, which they claimed was in the interest of states with sizeable tribal populations.

The opposition members disagreed, demanding a vote first on whether the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee.

Members from both the government as well as opposition members quoted rules to buttress their arguments.

With inputs from Renu Mittal

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