" Even if Congress opposes the bill in Rajya Sabha and it is rejected, we can call a joint sitting and pass the bill, said the BJP leader. "
By Anjali Ojha and Sreeparna Chakrabarty

New Delhi, Dec 21 - A huge question mark hangs over the fate of a bill to raise the foreign equity cap in the insurance sector to 49 percent, with an aggressive opposition stalling the Rajya Sabha to demand a clarification from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on issue of conversions.

Despite the Congress' in-principle agreement to the bill, the government's prized reform legislation - which it wants passed before the January 2015 visit of US President Barack Obama - has apparently hit a roadblock.

The government is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha, where the bill has been introduced. The ruling NDA, which has only 59 members against 69 of Congress in the 245-member house, is now contemplating the ordinance route or a joint session of parliament that would give it the requisite numbers to see the bill through.

The winter session of parliament has entered the final lap with only two working days left in the coming week and the government desperate to push its reform agenda. The session began Nov 24.

Apart from the insurance bill, the house of elders also has pending on its agenda crucial bills on facilitating the auction of coal blocks and extending the Delhi Special Provisions Act for extending permission for unauthorised colonies that expires by the end of this month, among others.

While the Lok Sabha has so far functioned for over 126 hours during its stipulated 20 sittings with a productivity of over 105 percent, a minor increase from the 104 percent of the budget session.

However, the productivity in the upper house has gone down, being 68 percent so far, against 106 percent during the budget session.

During this period, the Lok Sabha has passed 17 bills against only 11 by the upper house.

A united opposition has, meanwhile, given clear signals that there is little chance of the house working on the remaining two days.

We want the house to run, but it is up to the government to address our concerns. We just want an assurance from the prime minister (on the conversions issue). Is that such a big deal that they want to stall all other work for it, Congress leader Satyavrat

Chaturvedi asked while speaking to IANS.

The Samajwadi Party (SP), whose MPs, along with those of the Congress, trooped to the the Rajya Sabha chairman's podium several times during the week that saw little work, echoed Chaturvedi.

The opposition leaders are meeting Monday morning, and we will decide the next step. But unless the prime minister makes a statement, it is unlikely that the

situation will change, vocal SP leader Naresh Agarwal told IANS.

(The conversions issue has been sparked by controversial statements by Hindutva-leaning BJP leaders and a mass conversion programme in Agra earlier this month.)

The government, on the other hand is determined to pass the insurance bill before Obama's visit.

A senior BJP leader termed the stalling of the upper house a Congress tactic.

The Congress knows it will vote in favour of insurance bill, so it is hiding behind Trinamool Congress and SP. There is no other reason for stalling the house, a

senior BJP leader told IANS on condition of anonymity.

While the government says it is determined to push the insurance bill, opposition leaders said they will not allow the bill to be passed amidst a din.

We will not let them pass any bill in a din... Chaturvedi asserted.

Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress (TMC), which the government has been blaming for much of the trouble in a subtle tone, said there is no question of resolving the logjam.

So far there is no question of any resolution. I do not think there is any question of the insurance bill being passed by the Rajya Sabha, Trinamool MP Saugata Roy told IANS.

Without naming the TMC, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said Saturday that a political party, whose members are allegedly involved in a chit fund scam, is trying to divert the attention by creating obstruction in the functioning of Rajya Sabha where the ruling NDA does not have a majority of its own.

(The reference was to the arrest of TMC leaders, including a West Bengal minister and two Rajya Sabha MPs - one of whom has been suspended - in a huge chit fund scam that has been unearthed in the eastern state.)

Jaitley had blamed the logjam in the house on the arrogance of numbers. To this, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury had retorted that the Lok Sabha was functioning because of tyranny of the majority.

A senior BJP leader said that an ordinance - a law passed by the government without parliament's approval and which is valid for six months - is the last option.

Whenever the bill comes to vote, we are confident of getting it cleared. Hence an ordinance can be an option if the situation remains the same, the BJP leader told IANS on condition of anonymity.

The bill has been stuck in the Rajya Sabha since 2008. The BJP had opposed the bill when it was in the opposition.

Another option for the government is to call a joint sitting of the two houses. However, it can be done only after the bill is either passed or rejected by one of

the houses.

Even if Congress opposes the bill in Rajya Sabha and it is rejected, we can call a joint sitting and pass the bill, said the BJP leader.

(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at [email protected] Sreeparna Chakrabarty can be contacted at [email protected])

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