Isolating the Congress, the Trinamool Congress on Monday took a U-turn and decided not to oppose the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, thus aiding the government’s bid to remove the legal hurdles in the appointment of former TRAI chief Nripendra Misra as principal secretary to the Prime Minister.
The Bill was passed by a voice vote in the Lok Sabha after a walkout by the Congress, RJD, AAP, RSP and CPI(M).
Replying to a discussion, Minister for Law and Telecom Ravi Shankar Prasad said the focus of the measure was to remove “a palpable anomaly” as, under the existing law, a former TRAI chairman can take up a private job two years after retirement, but not a government job. Other regulatory bodies like Competition Commission, Airports Economic Regulatory Authority and SEBI do not have such provision, he said.
With the opposition divided, the Bill is likely to be passed in the Rajya Sabha as well. If cleared, it will replace the ordinance that the new government passed just two days after taking over in May to enable Misra to join Modi’s team. Misra, a 1967-batch IAS officer who retired in 2009, joined the PMO the same day the ordinance was promulgated.
TMC leader Sudip Bandopadhyay, whose party had opposed the Bill last week, supported the measure saying the Prime Minister had “the right to appoint any officer who he feels fit… in the greater interests of better governance.”
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Last week, his party colleague, Saugata Roy, had opposed the Bill saying it was being brought “merely to give a government job to a superannuated TRAI chairman, thereby taking away the independence of TRAI.” Roy was not present in the House on Monday.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu apparently reached out to various opposition parties for their support. AIADMK leader M Thambidurai also supported the measure, saying the Prime Minister had “made a choice and there is no need to oppose it.”
Moving a statutory resolution disapproving the TRAI Bill, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury accused the government of “transgressing the domain of the legislature” by issuing an ordinance to give legal backing to Misra’s appointment.
The appointment “was conceptualised at lightning speed, smacking of a hidden agenda. This will not augur well for democracy,” he said, asking “whether it was done to have a quid pro quo or was it in public interest” to issue the ordinance.
Chowdhury said this was the “first instance” of making an appointment through ordinance, “despite the government having a majority in the House. What was the extraordinary situation which led the government to bring the ordinance?”
Countering Chowdhury, BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy said there was an “anomaly” which was rectified by the government. “We got complete majority. The Prime Minister felt that this man was needed in the government… Why should we ignore merit? Earlier, the bureaucracy was crest-fallen… we can take any decision to encourage merit,” Rudy said.
AAP member Dharam Vira Gandhi said while his party did not have any problem with the individual who was appointed, “we are opposed to the manner in which this appointment has been carried out.”