Having managed the support of the smaller parties, the government Friday got two crucial pieces of legislation passed in the Rajya Sabha but not before the Congress and the Left parties put up a stiff fight, criticising the government for the haste with which it was pushing through the bills, and for attempting to encroach on the rights of the states.
On the last day of the first part of Budget Session, before the Parliament goes into a month-long recess, hurried debates in the Rajya Sabha saw the passing of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill in the morning, and the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill in the afternoon. Both these bills had already been passed by the Lok Sabha where the government enjoys comfortable majority.
Both the bills were opposed by the Congress and the Left parties, moving several amendments all but one of which were rejected. Digvijaya Singh and P Bhattacharya of the Congress, Tapan Kumar Sen and P Rajeeve of the CPM and D Raja of the CPI were the most vocal opponents of the bills. “You are altering the basic structure of the 1973 Coal Mines Nationalisation Act. The nationalisation quadrupled the coal production, coal conservation has improved, accidents have reduced and the workers’ lot has improved. You are now trying to reverse this. We are opposed to this reversion. We oppose the bill,” Tapan Kumar Sen said during the debate on the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill.
Congress’s Digvijaya Singh said the provision to allow coal mining companies to sell in the open market after their own requirements were fulfilled would lead to black marketing and rise in coal prices. “We had suggested that if you still want to do this, bring in a regulator but the government did not listen to us,” he said.
A number of parties, which otherwise oppose the government like the TMC, NCP and the DMK, voted in support of the two bills. The MMDR Amendment bill was passed with 117 votes in favour and 69 against, while the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill got the support of 107 members and 62 opposed it.
Earlier, P Rajeeve of the CPM wanted the House to refer the two bills to the Select Committee once again as sufficient discussion had not taken place, but his resolution was rejected. Rajiv Shukla of the Congress said the government had missed a wonderful opportunity to reform the coal sector due to the haste.
A number of opposition speakers wanted an assurance from the government that the interests of the workers of the coal mines whose allotment have been cancelled by the Supreme Court will be protected. Coal Minister Piyush Goyal said the fears of the members were unfounded and claimed that the provision to let mining companies sell coal in the open market will drive down prices that will benefit small industries like brick kilns and bangle factories.
What it means
Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill
* A direct result of the Supreme Court order cancelling the allotment of 204 mining blocks by March 31
* Provides for immediate auction of some of these blocks
* Will amend the Coal Mines Nationalisation Act that prohibits mining companies to sell coal in open market. Private companies are allowed to mine coal only for ‘captive’ uses for producing power, cement, and iron and steel. They can now sell in the open market after their own requirement is fulfilled
* Provides for compensation to workers of the mines cancelled by the Supreme Court, if they are displaced
* Sufficient discussion not taken place
* States, coal unions not consulted
* ‘Draconian’ provisions to punish people who obstruct the operationalisation of coal mines (fine f Rs 1 lakh per day, imprisonment of two years). What if the displaced workers organise protests if their compensation and other rights not properly settled, they ask
* Lifting of end-use restrictions will lead to cartelisation, affect coal prices
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