Mines Bill to be sent to House panel

The government on Tuesday faced a belligerent opposition in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling National Democratic Alliance is in a minority. The opposition parties demanded the mines and minerals amendment Bill be sent to a select committee for scrutiny. To save face, the government yielded to the demand for a time-bound select committee, but the chairman would decide on the duration and the composition of the select committee on Wednesday. By all indications, the fate of the contentious land acquisition Bill although passed by the Lok Sabha, is likely to meet the same fate in the Upper House.

Only last week, the government had suffered a major setback, after the united opposition successfully moved an amendment to the President’s address.

There were heated exchanges over the mines Bill between the opposition and treasury benches all through the six hours. Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the Bill would help bring in greater revenue through auctions for state and, hence, should be given primacy.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) member P Rajeeve had moved an amendment for sending the Bill to a select committee of the House and demanded it be put to vote; a move that was initially fought tooth and nail by the government. While terming Rajeeve’s amendment as ‘infructuous’, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley himself offered that the government had no objection to the Bill being sent to a time-bound select committee.

When the Bill was taken up after lunch, the opposition parties attacked the government for not only adopting an ordinance route but also bypassing the procedure of scrutiny before a standing committee.

While the government objected to this citing the ‘urgency’, as ordinance would lapse by April 5, the Congress-led opposition dug in its heels. For over three hours, both sides sparred over the technicalities resulting in repeated adjournments over whether the Bill or the vote on sending the Bill to a select committee should be taken up first.

The Bill has already been passed by the Lok Sabha. Leader of the House Arun Jaitley attempted to underscore the ‘urgency’ behind promulgating three ordinances, which had been placed before the House as Bills such as the mining Bill, the motor vehicles Bill and the coal mines Bill.

Jaitley said while the fate of poor rickshaw-pullers was dependant on the passing of the motor vehicles Bill, the auction of coal blocks and electricity production was dependant on the coal Bill and delay in passing the mining Bill would prevent a large amount of money going to states having sizeable tribal population.

The House sat till late to discuss the mining Bill. The Trinamool Congress and Biju Janata Dal spoke in favour of the Bill. The Congress had the support of the Left parties, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party in demanding a select committee.