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Oppn outmanoeuvred by govt as mines, coal bills cleared in Rajya Sabha

By Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com
March 20, 2015 23:54 IST
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'The central learning of the day was that if the BJP leadership can cajole, coax and convince regional parties to vote for bills, it would not be a stretch to see the same votes cast in favour of the land bill,' a senior Congress leader from a northern state told Rediff.com

On Tuesday, March 17, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, along with representatives from 14 other Opposition parties, led a march to Rashtrapati Bhavan to protest against the land acquisition bill.

On Friday, March 20, after two important bills were passed in the Rajya Sabha, giving the Modi government a huge political victory, this seemingly potent unity amongst the Opposition parties seemed inconsequential.

The Opposition camaraderie was ripped apart by behind-the-scene manoeuvring by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and coordinated by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah.

"The skill of the government strategists wrought good dividends," former Union minister Praful Patel, of the Nationalist Congress Party, who voted in favour of the bills, told Rediff.com

Patel was one of many Opposition leaders who agreed that the government had the upper hand with the passage of the two bills.

Even the Congress party, perhaps realising that it was outmanoeuvred, did not create a ruckus to stop the Upper House from functioning on Friday which helped the government pass both bills with relative ease.

Rediff.com had reported how Prime Minister Narendra Modi spread the red carpet for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee when she arrived in the capital on March 9.

The yield of the goodwill visit was here to see. Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, along with the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Biju Janata Dal, the NCP, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Samajwadi Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam joined hands with the National Democratic Alliance government.

The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act and the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill were passed expeditiously.

The coal bill was passed minutes before Parliament adjourned for a break in the Budget session.

The passage of the coal bill has legitimised the ongoing e-auction of coal mines which has already fetched Rs 2 lakh crore (Rs 2 trillion).

Many members were not allowed to speak for the three minutes allotted to them. A Telugu Desam Party MP was told bluntly that she could provide a copy of her speech to Coal Minister Piyush Goyal later.

The coal policy -- one of the important issues because of which the United Progressive Alliance government lost power -- will be mended by the new bill when it becomes an Act after it is signed into law by President Pranab Mukherjee.

The bill concerns the allocation of coal mines, the rights and well-being of coal miners, serious issues of asthma and cancer affecting residents living in the vicinity of the mines, and pollution in general, royalty of the concerned states etc.

It seems quaint that legislation so important was passed in such a hurry.

"The central learning of the day was that if the BJP leadership can cajole, coax and convince regional parties to vote for bills, it would not be a stretch to see the same votes cast in favour of the land bill," a senior Congress leader from a northern state told Rediff.com

The mines bill was passed by 117 members voting in favour and 69 against it while the coal bill was passed by a division vote -- 107 in favour and 69 against it.

The Congress and Left parties voted against the bill while the Janata Dal-United and Rashtriya Janata Dal abstained.

Three days after the Congress thought it had unified the Opposition the party received a rude shot of reality. Observers said the party leaders's body language changed when they stepped out of Parliament on Friday.

Inside Parliament, leaders from states which are rich in minerals and coal were heard saying that both bills are imperfect, particularly the coal bill.

Many members complained forcefully about the bill, but Piyush Goyal said their concerns would be taken care of later when the rules are framed.

When Congress MP Digvijaya Singh expressed anguish that the bill encroaches on the states's rights over land leased out for mining, Goyal did not deny the charge, but quickly clarified that it was so only for 4 to 5 years.

The Left parties said they felt the bill opens the gates for the privatisation of natural resources while Congress leaders think the bill buries then prime minister Indira Gandhi's nationalisation of coal.

Image: Congress leader Anand Sharma speaks in the Rajya Sabha in New Delhi on Friday, March 20. Photograph: PTI

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Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com in New Delhi
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