On March 20th the Rajya Sabha passed the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) and Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Amendment Bill 2015. The Bill was passed by 117 members voting in favour and 69 members voting against it. The Bill was moved by the Mines Minister Mr. Narendra Singh Tomar.
The JD(U) members walked out of the House, stating that they did not want to be a part of the voting on the Bill. All the parties supported the Bill, except the Congress and the Left. The CPI (M) did attempt to scuttle the process by moving a motion for sending the bill back to the select committee, as the Committee had not taken into consideration the views of the State Government. This motion was voted out by the opposition parties such as the AIADMK, TMC, DMK, JMM, BSP, SP and NCP by 112 votes to 68 votes. This allowed the Rajya Sabha to take up the Bill for voting. The Bill will now be sent back to the Lok Sabha before it can become law.
The Bill was earlier passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2014. All opposition to the Bill was watered down by the time the discussions on the Bill were completed. The Government also allayed fears that Coal India would be denationalized and the Corporation could be strengthened. The Opposition did express reservations on the end use clause in the Bill, which it said left a door for exercise of discretion. Their strategy at that time appeared to be to force the Government to refer the Bill to a Select Committee in the Rajya Sabha, where it has enough numbers to do so.
In the Rajya Sabha, the Left parties took up the cause of the tribals whom they said would be affected by the passage of the Bill. Many members felt that the Bill may not withstand constitutional scrutiny as it was encroaching on the states’ jurisdiction, but good floor management saw the Bill pass through the Rajya Sabha as well, with many of the smaller Opposition parties voting in favour.
In the Lok Sabha, the Opposition had also criticized the haste in passing the Bill without much scrutiny, but this was brushed aside by Mr. Goyal who explained that the haste was required in view of the Supreme Court order on allocation of coal blocks. Haste was also required to prevent job losses and ensure power supply. He also clarified that the Bill was meant to replace the Ordinance, which had not really received much criticism in public debate.
Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill 2015 was voted in favour of by TMC, AIADMK, Samajwadi party, NCP, BJD and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha by 107 to 69 votes. Left and the Opposition voted against the Bill while Rashtriya Janata Dal and JD(U) abstained. The Bill is meant to boost the coal mining sector by allowing commercial mining and permitting the auction of 200 cancelled coal blocks. This auction had created much furor during the UPA regime in which the former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was also accused. The recently concluded auction of 29 coal blocks has reaped rich dividends. The total proceeds of Rs 1.93 lakh crore have surpassed the CAG’s estimate of Rs 1.86 lakh crore.
The passing of the Bill in the Rajya Sabha is a victory of sorts for the Government. It has proved that it is capable of getting outside support from parties on specific issues, just as the UPA Government did while it was in power. While it could have anyway forced the passage of the bill at a joint sitting, the passage without having to do so must definitely be a feather in the cap for the government.