New Delhi: Uncertainty loomed over immediate passage of the Insurance Bill, Modi government's first major reform initiative to raise FDI cap in the sector to 49 percent, with nine parties including the Congress giving notice in Rajya Sabha for referring the bill to Select Committee.
Sources said that Congress, CPI-M, CPI, SP, BSP, DMK, JD (U), Trinamool Congress and RJD have given a notice to the Chairman of the Upper House Hamid Ansari for referring the controversial bill, which the government proposes to bring in Rajya Sabha on Monday, to a Select Committee.
AIADMK, which despite not being an ally, supports the government on key issues, has also agreed to back the nine parties in the endeavour though it is not a signatory to the notice. The stand of BJD is not yet clear.
It has been agreed upon among the Opposition parties that as soon as the government moves the controversial Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, they will move a motion pressing for referring it to the Select Committee.
The BJP-led NDA does not have a majority in the Upper House and yesterday Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu had refused to react on the possibility of the bill being referred to the Select Committee.
The bill, which has already been through the Standing Committee, seeks to raise the ceiling of FDI in the insurance sector to 49 percent from the current 26 percent.
Congress has been claiming that the bill was originally its idea, but now several new provisions have been added including allowing investment by FIIs, which is "extremely mobile, uncertain and like quicksand".
Though the government is keen on its early passage, Opposition leaders are not very sure on whether the government would go in for a joint session to achieve this.
"Select Committee is the best via media. Select Committee is the only way out," Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters.
He said the party was not opposing the bill on principles, but since it is a 60-page legislation and there have been several changes, so it will be better if it is looked into by the Select Committee.
Rejecting the charge that Congress was doing doublespeak on the matter as it had during UPA regime sought BJP's support in passage of the bill, Singhvi said that on the contrary it was the BJP, which was doing this.
He said that the para raising the FDI cap to 49 percent in the bill was rejected by the Standing Committee, which was chaired by BJP leader and former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha.
He said that the Congress was rather flattered that BJP has imitiated the 49 provison introduced by it earlier.
"This shows the BJP's double standards," he said, adding that "support does not mean that it is support to every comma, full stop and allowing FIIs." He was asked why Congress is opposing it when former Finance Minister P Chidambaram welcomed the bill yesterday.
Singhvi said that parties like the Left are totally opposed to the bill and want it to be scrapped but that is not the Congress stand.
According to the sources, as many as 97 amendments have been moved to the original bill and the government has circulated these among the members to enable them to study.
The Bill providing for raising the FDI cap in the insurance sector to 49 percent from 26 percent was given a nod by the Cabinet last week with a rider that management control will remain in the hands of Indian promoters.
The Bill has been listed for being taken up in the Rajya Sabha on Monday despite no clear commitment of support by Congress and reservations of some other parties.
The much-delayed Bill, which was listed in the Rajya Sabha agenda on Thursday, could not be taken up for discussion as the opposition wanted more time to go through the amendments, sources said.
Once approved by Parliament, it would help insurance firms to get much needed capital from overseas partners.
Government sources said former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and several Congress leaders favour passage of the Bill.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the Budget 2014-15 speech had said that the insurance sector was investment starved and there was a need to increase the composite cap in the sector to 49 percent, with full Indian management and control, through the FIPB route.
The approval to hike the FDI limit from the current 26 percent, a proposal which has been pending since December 2008, is expected to attract long term capital, besides improving the overall investment climate.
First Published: Friday, August 1, 2014, 19:04