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Millennium Post

The number game continues to play out

Numbers continue to haunt the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. From fiscal deficit to GDP growth to the passage of economic reforms in Parliament, numbers are giving many a sleepless night to the ruling Congress.

While the fiscal deficit is threatening to go beyond the revised target of 5.3 per cent, the GDP figure for fiscal 2012-2013 is expected to end below 5.5 per cent, a far cry from the projected 6.5 per cent earlier.

And all these are linked to the economic reforms whose passage in Parliament is important to shore up investor confidence and drive the Indian economy.

And in Parliament, the numbers game continues to play out for the Congress as it seeks the outside support of other secular parties to get its reforms agenda passed.

Most of the time it often finds itself short of numbers and will continue to do so, given the structure of its government and the compulsions of its supporters within the UPA and outside. For the FDI in retail, the UPA managed the numbers in the Lok Sabha with the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) abstaining during voting; but in the Rajya Sabha, it is faced with a daunting task as it will need the direct support of either Mulayam or Mayawati to get the FDI Bill passed.

Held hostage to numbers are other key reforms-related Bills – both in financial and social sectors.

The pending Bills include those relating to pension fund reforms, food security, amendments to the Insurance Act and banking law and a replacement for the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.

Though the government has already accommodated Bharatiya Janata Party’s suggestions – minimum assured return and part premature withdrawal – in the revised Pension Bill, the fate of the Bill hangs in the balance as the main Opposition party may link it to the Insurance Bill.

The BJP is reportedly opposed to raising the foreign equity cap in insurance sector to 49 per cent from 26 per cent, and therefore, would also want the cap in the pension sector at 26 per cent. The SP and the BSP – the two key players in the passage of the UPA’s reforms agenda – also have reservations on these two Bills, and so do have the Left parties. The Food Security Bill – that proposes to give 70 per cent of Indians the right to food – also has a dim chance of passage in this winter session of Parliament as the standing committee examining it is yet to give its report.

The Land Acquisition Bill has just been finalised. But some Bills which may see the light of day include the Companies Bill – to overhaul corporate governance norms – Amendments to Foreign Contracts Regulation Act to boost farmers’ income by removing middlemen and the Banking Laws Bill. The Congress managers are in talks with other parties to build a consensus on these Bills. But getting the numbers will be a Herculean task. And the winter session is also numbered – till 20 December. (IFS)
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