The month-long winter session of parliament begins this Thursday,
presenting the government with an opportunity to further its reform
agenda. There has been much talk of reforms in higher education and
judiciary and second generation reforms in the financial sector. The
government would need to introduce bills to address these issues.
The government has
indicated some items on its legislative agenda. The Equal
Opportunities Bill was recommended by the Sachar Commission to
enforce affirmative action -- in both the public and private
sectors. The law minister has indicated that he may introduce bills
to codify accountability of judges and declaration of their assets
and take measures to improve delivery of justice.
The human resource
development minister has also indicated the possibility of
legislation to reform the higher education sector, including a new
regulatory structure and permission for foreign universities.
will introduce bills to replace four ordinances that have been
promulgated since the last session. The Essential Commodities Act
was amended to provide that the price fixed by the central
government for sugarcane shall be taken into account while
calculating the price paid to sugar mills for levy sugar. This has
become a controversial issue as the minimum sugarcane price fixed by
state governments is often significantly higher than the central
Universities Act was amended to bifurcate the Jammu and Kashmir
University. The Competition Act was amended for immediate closure of
the MRTPC; earlier a two-year time frame was fixed for the purpose.
And the Jharkhand Contingency Fund (with the state being under
President's rule) was enhanced from Rs.150 crore to Rs.500 crore. It
is likely that the last three bills will be passed with broad
agreement from most parties.
are pending in the Rajya Sabha from earlier sessions. These include
the seeds bill, the communal violence bill, the women's reservation
bill and amendments to the insurance act.
Some of these
bills have not been taken up for discussion as they face strong
opposition from some political parties. For example, the seeds bill
that regulates the manufacture, distribution and sale of seeds also
requires inter-farmer sale of seeds to conform to quality tests and
norms. The standing committee has recommended deletion of this
requirement; it will be interesting to see whether the government
proposes any amendments.
violence bill doubles the punishment for certain crimes if they are
committed as part of communal riots. This has been criticised as
ineffective on account of the low conviction rate in such cases.
reservation bill has been referred again to the standing committee,
as the earlier committee was not able to arrive at a consensus.
The insurance bill
raises the foreign investment limit to 49 percent (currently 26
percent) and allows nationalised general insurance companies to
raise funds from the capital markets. This bill is pending with the
standing committee, and could see opposition from the Left parties.
Some of the bills
that lapsed with the dissolution of the last Lok Sabha could be
re-introduced. The president's address in June signalled urgency
over the land acquisition amendment and the rehabilitation bills.
However, some cabinet ministers have reportedly objected to these
The bill to amend
the Forward Contracts Regulation Act was stalled last year due to
opposition from the Left. Given the current position of the UPA
government, this bill could be revived. The case of the pension
regulatory bill is similar; indeed this bill has been publicly
supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
A set of bills
could be introduced related to the State Bank of India (SBI) group
-- reducing the minimum government shareholding in SBI to 51 percent
(from 55 percent), merger of the State Bank of Saurashtra into SBI,
and transfer of some powers regarding these banks from the Reserve
Bank of India to the central government.
Of the bills
introduced last session, 10 are pending. The Rubber Amendment Bill
was taken up on the last day of the last session but was not
discussed as the opposition objected to the absence of the ministers
concerned. This bill delicenses planting and replanting of rubber,
amends the powers of the Rubber Board, and enables the revocation
and refund of excise on rubber manufactured for export between 1961
The Land Ports
Authority Bill establishes an authority for managing the movement of
people and goods across land borders; the bill is being scrutinised
by the standing committee. The workmen's compensation amendment
enhances the amount of compensation to be paid in case of death or
government was unable to conclude several of its legislative
initiatives. The president's address as well as subsequent
announcements by various ministers indicate the resolve to carry
forward much of that agenda. It would be interesting to see to what
extent the government succeeds in this regard during the winter
Madhavan is head of research at PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi.
He can be contacted at