Intense political standoffs notwithstanding, finance minister P Chidambaram on Friday sought to give some credence to the UPA's faltering reform agenda by suggesting hopefully that the odds favoured a productive Parliament session ahead. Later in the day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted a dinner for UPA leaders at his residence in an apparent effort to consolidate political support for the slew of reform Bills lined up. Singh's gesture reflects the anxiety of the government to perk up the slowing economy.
The UPA's two main outside supporters — the SP and BSP — have recently been extended such hospitality by Singh.
Addressing the media, Chidambaram reminded all political parties of “a very heavy legislative agenda” during the coming winter session and urged them to stand the government in good stead to carry the agenda through.
The government, which is working against a political calendar and facing the daunting task of reining in the fiscal deficit in a slackening economy, desperately wants to ensure that the reform Bills are approved by Parliament.
The important economic agenda for the winter session of Parliament beginning on November 22 includes amendment to the Insurance Bill to raise the foreign direct investment (FDI) cap from 26% to 49%, the Pension Fund Regulatory & Development Authority Bill, Banking Laws Amendment Bill, the long-pending Companies Bill, the Direct Taxes Code and the Land Acquisition Bill that seeks to make it easier for industry to mobilise land for projects.
Chidambaram said Singh had already met parties that are supportive of these Bills and would soon be meeting more allies.
Not everyone would share the minister's optimism, though, given that the BJP has said it would oppose FDI in retail in Parliament and even the DMK, a UPA constituent, maintaining suspense over its stance on the issue. The monsoon session was a washout as the BJP disrupted it over the coal mines allocation scandal.
Chidambaram said: "We sincerely hope that the forthcoming session will be a productive one and many Bills will be passed... My suggestion is that not one issue should be blown out of proportion. There are many very important issues that concern the welfare of people and future of country."
The Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, approved by the Cabinet recently, proposes to increase the limit on foreign investment to 49% from 26%, which, if approved by Parliament, could help address capital constraints in the sector, which needs an estimated $10-12 billion for expansion. The enhanced