Trinamool Congress forces UPA Cabinet to defer Pension Bill
Trinamool Congress (TMC) has once again forced the UPA Government to postpone a key reform measure, less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised to give a push to economic reforms. The Union Cabinet on Thursday played safe by deferring the Pension Bill, following opposition by the TMC. Not willing to antagonise one of its key constituents just a few weeks before the Presidential polls, the Congress-led UPA put the legislation on the backburner after Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth listed the first three items on the agenda of the meeting but said that the Pension Bill, which was the fourth item, had been “dropped” and moved on to the next item.
Sources said that Trinamool Congress MP and Railway Minister Mukul Roy had written to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday, opposing the Bill and saying that more discussions were needed to fine-tune the legislation. The Railway Minitser said that the TMC was upset at not being represented in the Parliamentary Standing Committee which discussed and cleared the Pension Bill.
He reportedly pointed out that TMC MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay had resigned from Committee after becoming the Union Minister of State, Health and Family Welfare and so the party’s view were not taken into consideration. The Union Cabinet was to take up the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill (PFRDA), 2011, which provides for private sector and foreign investment in pension sector, but put it off without any consideration, sources said.
With Presidential polls nearing, the Congress doesn’t want to upset TMC supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Mukul Roy was present at Thursday’s Cabinet meeting but did not speak on the PFRDA, sources said. However, Law Minister Salman Khurshid has denied there is a policy paralysis within the UPA. Khushid said, “There is no policy paralysis within the government.”
Meanwhile, the government had already accepted senior BJP MP and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha headed Parliamentary Committee recommendations and lowered the FDI cap to 26 per cent from 49 per cent in line with the ceiling in the insurance industry. The proposed legislation, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on March 24, 2011 was referred to the Standing Committee headed by senior BJP leader and former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha for scrutiny.
With BJP’s help, which has agreed to support the Bill, the government could get the legislation passed in Parliament. The Pension Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on March 24, 2011 and was then referred to the Standing Committee headed by Yashwant Sinha. The Bill that has been pending for several years seeks to open the pension sector to private sector and foreign investment. The Trinamool Congress, a key constituent of the UPA, has been opposing the reforms in the pension sector saying it is against the interest of common man.
The assured return clause in the proposed Pension Bill, sources said, would be introduced with certain conditions with a view to protect the interest of policy holders. The government may also consider the suggestion of the Committee to provide greater flexibility to subscribers to withdraw funds from their accounts, sources said. The PFRDA Bill provides for establishment of a statutory authority to undertake promotional, developmental and regulatory functions in respect to pension funds.
Interim PFRDA is functioning since 2003 through an executive order. The PFRDA set up as a regulatory body for pension sector, is yet to get statutory powers as the Bill pertaining to that effect lapsed in Parliament with the expiry of last Lok Sabha in 2009. PFRDA, set up as a regulatory body for pension sector, is yet to get statutory powers as the Bill pertaining to that effect lapsed in Parliament with the expiry of last Lok Sabha in 2009.