November 12, 2014

FDI in Insurance Bill? No, not so easy.

Few noticed but a remarkable and potentially far-reaching event happened late on Tuesday evening. A crucial meeting of the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Insurance Bill, scheduled for Wednesday, November 12, suddenly got called off. Somewhere, at some point, the government lost its nerve.

The Insurance Bill has an interesting history for the BJP. It sought to bulldoze it through Parliament in the Budget Session so that the prime minister had a lollypop to carry to America. The opposition, primarily the Trinamool Congress, the CPI(M), which have been consistent critics of the Insurance Bill, and the Congress and JDU, succeeded in checking the advance of the Bill, arresting the BJP’s unseemly hurry and taking the Bill to a select committee.

The government’s orders to BJP members of the select committee were to rush through with proceedings and get the Bill ready for the Winter Session, which begins on November 24. I’m a member of the select committee. We’ve already done about 10 meetings and there was an important one coming up on Wednesday. I can’t say more as I am not at liberty to reveal the workings of the select committee.

Meanwhile, jumping the gun and seeking to anticipate the recommendations of the select committee, members of this government have addressed economic conclaves and given assurances that the Insurance Bill will be passed in the Winter Session of Parliament.

But will it? The clue lies in the reason the meeting was cancelled. The BJP had three members in the 15-MP select committee: the chairperson, Chandan Mitra, and J.P. Naddaand Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. The chairperson can vote only in case of a tie.

On Sunday, Nadda and Naqvi were made members of the Union ministry. With this they ceased to be members of the select committee. Hence the panicky cancellation of Wednesday’s meeting.

Two new members of the select committee will need to be appointed by the Rajya Sabha. This can only happen sometime after the House meets on November 24. Then the two new members will join the 13 previous members in debating and discussing the Insurance Bill. It is very unlikely this will conclude before Parliament ends the Winter Session on the eve of Christmas.

What then becomes of the government’s resolve to pass the Insurance Bill? My guess: Parliament will not be voting on the Insurance Bill this year. As for 2015, that’s another year and another battle. We’ll fight it when it comes.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress