The Congress on Saturday said it will oppose the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill to replace the ordinance which was promulgated to allow Nripendra Misra to take over as Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sources said its floor leaders are seeking the views of opposition parties in Rajya Sabha where the Government is in a minority and may try to block its passage in the Upper House to embarrass the Government.
“I don’t think anyone in the opposition is going to oblige the Government. The mood of many of the opposition parties in Rajya Sabha seem to be not in favour of this,” said a top Congress leader who had preliminary exchanges with many party leaders. He, however, said the party is yet to formally explore the possibility of arriving at a common position with the rest of the opposition. The Congress stance came on a day the Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha amid strong opposition from the Trinamool Congress.
The Bill will sail through in Lok Sabha since the Government has a comfortable majority, but there could be hurdles in Rajya Sabha if the opposition parties come together. The BJP and its allies have 56 members in the Rajya Sabha out of the total 243. It can count on couple of independents and the likes of AIADMK, BJD and INLD, the combined strength of which is 20.
The Congress and its allies, on the other hand, have 83 members. Besides there are 10 nominated members, all of them brought into Rajya Sabha by the UPA government. And if the Left, JD(U), Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and BSP come together, there will be trouble for the Government. Between them, these parties have 59 seats and together they will be well above the half-way mark.
The Government had issued an ordinance on May 28 to amend section 5(8) in the TRAI Act which barred any post-retirement government job for (the) “chairperson or any other member ceasing to hold office”.
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The amended section now reads as: “The chairperson and the whole-time members shall not, for a period of two years from the date on which they cease to hold office as such, except with the previous approval of the Central government, accept “(a) any employment either under the Central government or under any state government; or “(b) any appointment in any company in the business of telecommunication service.” Misra, a UP-cadre IAS officer of the 1967 batch, was chairman of TRAI from March 2006 to 2009.
In the Lok Sabha today, Trinamool leader Saugata Roy objected to the Bill saying it violated the rules of procedures. His contention was that law is being amended to “merely to give a government job to a superannuated TRAI Chairman, thereby taking away the independence of TRAI.”
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the Congress is opposed to the “person-focused” change in law and pointed out “there is no reason (for him) to believe that it will not be reflected in our actions in parliament.”
“The Modi government was hardly born when it threw to the winds established policy which was earlier practiced and then codified in to an Act of parliament about retired officials. In the very first week of your existence, you cannot find anybody else except a person who violates what has been a principle earlier which parliament itself has codified,” he said. Singhvi pointed out that a senior officer like Misra himself was supposed to know the law.
“So this absolutely and unholy haste and focus on having only one person who is hit by the law and then insisting on that person and changing the law…..what is the message you are sending. That you have no regard for norms and rules…..This ordinance raj is for a person and not for a policy. So whether it is policy focused, the answer is no. Whether it is person focused, the answer is yes,” he said.
The Congress’ opposition to the change of law through an ordinance is also a tit-for-tat as the BJP when it was in opposition had raised objections when the UPA Government took the ordinance route on the food security bill and then to protect convicted MPs and MLAs from immediate disqualification.
“When we passed ordinances not for assumption of power for one officer….but in the light of the Supreme Court judgement….what did the BJP tell the nation. They said this is nullification of parliament, bypassing of Parliament and defiance of parliamentary will,” Singhvi said.