Parliament Wednesday saw the first instance of division voting in times of the pandemic, with Major Ports Authorities Bill 2020 passed in Rajya Sabha as members voted through slips in view of social distancing norms in place.
The Bill was passed with 88 votes for and 44 against, with members of the Upper House seated across chambers and galleries of both Houses.
The idea of holding division voting at a time when electronic voting is not an option as members are not sitting at designated places initially caused some confusion. One of the marshals was even heard asking Deputy Chairman Harivansh to request the members to not seek a division vote.
Union Minister Piyush Goyal then requested that all members of Rajya Sabha be allowed to come to the House chamber for the voting, but then Secretary General Desh Deepak Verma announced that voting will take place through slips.
The Bill provides for regulation of major ports and will replace the Major Port Trusts Act of 1963, and a board of Major Port Authority for each major port will replace the current port trusts.
Minister of State (Independent Charge) Mansukh Madaviya said that in the new Bill, the government has “brought in a provision that will allow ports to take their own decisions”. He mentioned that to change tariffs, the ports have to now approach the ministry.
“In the port sector in the last six years, we have doubled the profit. Profit has increased, liabilities have come down. For modernisation, 300 projects are ongoing,” he said.
Countering the Opposition charge that the Bill is aimed at privatising ports, Mandaviya said, “This Bill is not to privatise any port, but it is to ensure that our ports can properly compete with private ports.”
Opposition parties Congress, the Left parties, DMK, Trinamool Congress, RJD and the SP opposed the legislation and BJD and YSRCP supported it. Many Opposition members said the legislation would adversely affect states’ rights.
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Congress’s Shaktisinh Gohil said, “First the airports were given to a friend… now sea ports… hope this Bill has not been brought to hand over ports to a friend.”
Trinamool’s Sukhendu Sekhar Ray said, “This Bill is nothing but a retraction of the Singapore model… When there was hue and cry that there cannot be privatisation of ports, it adopted a policy of so-called corporatisation. Thereafter, it ultimately privatised its ports. So, corporatisation is the first step. The next in the offing is privatisation.”
Ram Gopal Yadav of the SP alleged that the government is trying to sell the country’s assets and that is the intention of this Bill.
Opposing the legislation, DMK’s P Wilson said. “This Bill has been brought, I am sorry to say, in Adani’s interests in the port sector.”
The CPI’s Binoy Viswam said, “The whole of India, all the ports, all the airports, all the property, land, everything is more and more given to one company, that is, Adani and company.”
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