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Parliament proceedings live | Lok Sabha passes Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2021

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman introduced The National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development Bill, 2021 in the Lok Sabha.

Rajya Sabha was adjourned till 2 p.m. following protests in the Treasury Benches regarding the happenings in Maharashtra.

The Rajya Sabha is scheduled to take up The Appropriation (No.2) Bill, 2021 today, while the Lok Sabha will discuss The Finance Bill, 2021 and The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021.

The first part of the Budget Session of Parliament, which commenced with the address of President Ram Nath Kovind on January 29, concluded on February 29. The second part of the Budget Session began March 7.

Here are the latest updates:

Lok Sabha | 3:20 p.m.

BJP’s Meenakshi Lekhi talks about multiple authorities.

“Some drains are built by MCD, while others are managed by Delhi Jal Board. This Bill seeks to remove these discrepancies,” she says.

Ms. Lekhi mentions Rs 524 crore of advertisement of Delhi government that used to be Rs 32 crore under Sheila Dikshit.

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“When bodies lined up during Corona, Union Home Minister had to intervene,” she says.

“When agitation was done in the name of farmers, do you think the citizens would want that? That tractors would run over policemen?” she adds.

She points out how water is meant to be given by Municipal Corporation but in Delhi, it is given by Delhi Jal Board that’s under State Government. “There was no drinking water line in Patel Nagar. Even in the staff quarters of AIIMS, we had to fight to get pipes installed.”

“Anti CAA riots saw the involvement of Aam Admi Party councillor. When there were cases and matters reached courts, there was a fight over who will provide lawyers, so that they can sit over sedition charges of people like Kanhaiya Kumar.” she says.

“We are not a federal structure but a quasi federal structure where the importance given to Centre is more on some issues,” Ms. Lekhi says.

She says the L-G is an administrator and can have a different opinion.

“In the scheme of things, you have to function within the limits imposed by the Constitution. Delhi Assembly has to accept it. The Chief Minister thinks he is the owner of Delhi. You are here to serve the people,” Ms. Lekhi says.

“They don’t implement Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, Ayush Yojana. I do feel the pain for the kind of people who have been put here to govern and how they are destroying everything. These proposals seeks to define the term government. They talk about murder of democracy. Democracy does not mean murder of its honest citizens,” she adds.

Rajya Sabha | 3:15 p.m.

M Thambidurai of AIADMK says: “I am not questioning the intention of the Bill , I belong to regional party. I wish to protect the rights of the State too.”

“In 2G spectrum what happened? A JPC was constituted. Because of the problems Central government faced during the auction, this side is sitting that side (pointing to Opposition),” he says.

If State delays auction, then Centre will question States. Wherever mines are auctioned, farmers are opposing. In Thanjavur belt area, it affects the farmers, so our CM made a legislation,” he adds.

“How can you auction when States are not consenting? if you want cooperative federalism, you have to give the powers to the State government, you cannot take away their rights,” he says.

Opposition objects that the Bill is being discussed and the concerned minister is not present.

K Keshava Rao of TRS says: “We are also elected governments and are as much responsible as you are. The Minister is a good lawyer too. He could present a weak Bill here. But by doing so, you are not only infringing but also violating the powers of the State government,”

“Though it is mining, it is also related to land. One day you give me land and next day you take it away; it happened in Jharkhand,” he says.

“It is true we want to exploit mines in an area, but there will be resistance and we have to face that. Sitting thousands of kilometres away you cannot decide which mine is to be taken. As a State, we should get to decide whether the grade is good and if not, whether it can be used for other purposes,” he adds.

“If you are from Central government, it doesn’t mean you have been dropped from heaven,” Mr. Rao says.

“You have not involved gram sabhas or any other stakeholder. Please send the Bill to select committee,” he says.

“You should have also sent the three Farm Bills to a select committee. Beyond what was discussed in 2015 by the select committee, seven more amendments were brought. Nothing is lost if the Bill is sent to the select committee,” he added.

Lok Sabha | 3:00 p.m.

National Capital Territory of Delhi, Bill, 2021 tabled for discussion and passage

Minister of State for Home, G Kishan Reddy, starts discussion.

“According to the Constitution, Delhi is a Union Territory with a Legislature. The proposed amendments are to clarify the points raised after directions from the Court. In 2015, some conflict of views were raised with regard to some court orders,” he says.

“The Honorable Court said it is incumbent to inform the Lieutenant Governor. Some clarification is needed as it is affecting the citizens. It is necessary to remove the administrative uncertainties. Parliament had passed in GNCTD Act in 1991 and that’s why Parliament is empowered to pass this Act. This is a technical Bill and doesn’t have any political bearing. It will improve administrative functioning. That’s why I request the House to consult this and pass this,” he adds.

Manish Tewari of Congress proceeds to speak. “The BJP/NDA Government’s problems is that their stand on issues depends where they were seated in Parliament.”

He quotes  former Home Minister L K Advani and says Mr. Advani had introduced a Bill to ensure that except New Delhi areas, all other areas would be granted the status of a State.

“Now, they want to reverse this. The present legislation is unconstitutional and coloured. It seeks to remove the limits imposed by the Constitutional bench on the powers of the L-G. The 69th constitutional amendment envisaged granting a special status to the National Capital Territory of Delhi among UTs. Except police, public order and land, it had all the powers to make laws under article 239 A (a) of the Constitution. The matter reached the Supreme Court and in 2018, the top court gave its ruling,” he says.

He now quotes the Court order to argue that pragmatic and cooperative federalism will fail if Centre has overriding powers.

“The Bill seeks to undo the limits that a Constitution Bench sought to do with regard to Centre,” he says.

He reads the proposed amendment to Article 21 and says the provision seeks to make the L-G the government of Delhi.

“Article 31 looks innocuous but it’s an assault on the powers of the Delhi Assembly by not allowing their rules of procedure. If Parliament has to frame rules for Delhi Assembly, what is the need of the Assembly,” he asks.

“You want to emasculate the government of Delhi and want to rule through L-G. You want to subvert democratic mandate. Mr Minister, please see the Constitution 102nd amendment brought by L. K. Advani” he says.

Rajya Sabha 2:30 p.m.

Digivijaya Singh of Congress says: “The Minister mentioned Australia and South Africa, areas where minerals are found inhabited by the poor and tribal people.”

“Consent of gram sabhas should be sought. If you send it to select committee, it can be discussed threadbare,” he says.

“The concept of competitive bidding was brought by Manmohan Singh in 2004; your Chief Ministers opposed it,” he adds.

“People whose land is being taken away, they should be given profit. We brought in a law when 26% profit was given to the people. You have a majority and can get laws passed,” he says.

“91.3% people in mine-rich Korba living below Rs 5,000 per month, according to SECC data. You are snatching the rights of States through Clause 10 and 11 of the Bill,” he says.

“When you brought the Bill first in 2015, you said it will lead to high revenue. Please share the numbers,” he says.

“Niti Aayog Vice Chairman Rajeev Kumar opposed the amendment that you are proposing in Section 10 (a) 2b. He said it adversely impacts investor’s confidence. Department of Economic Affairs memorandum dated December 28, 2020 has also warned of potential risks to this amendment that will lead to litigation,” he adds.

“Instead of ‘modi purana’, listen to what your departments are saying. You are saying 4 lakh hectares will be unlocked. You can fool some people for some time, but not all people all the time. Your pre legislative consultation was from February 9-24. 14,000 people sent suggestions, realities were not incorporated,” he says.

“Had you sent the Farm Bills to a select committee, then farmers wouldn’t be protesting, you cannot keep chanting ‘modi modi!’ “he adds.

Bhupendra Yadav of BJP says the Bill was sent to select committee in 2015, asks to expunge Digvijaya Singh’s remarks.

Ashwini Vaishnav of BJP says: “I have interest in the steel company, and would like to disclose here.”

Lok Sabha | 2:20 p.m.

Rahul Shewale of Shiv Sena gives history of FDI in Insurance sector. “Raising limit of FDI up until now has not had any significant increase in investment. PSU insurance companies will fall prey to private insurance companies owned by foreigners. Infuse capital into state owned companies.”

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman replies. She thanks the MPs who spoke. She proceeds to say: “Insurance is a highly regulated sector and the regulator takes care of many minute aspects of the sector. Many of us do recognise that FDI is only an upper limit. There is no automatic increase in stake of foreigners. Policy holders funds will only be invested in India. FDI will raise capital, competition.”

“Many MPs have questioned what difference was made by earlier hikes in FDI limits. Companies are finding it difficult to maintain levels of solvency required in the sector. 3/7 PSUs in the sector are below solvency margins. To presume that there is enough liquidity in the market and no stress is perhaps not an argument that holds up,” she says.

The Finance Minister then quotes Congress leader P. Chidambaram from 2012, advocating higher FDI to raise liquidity.

Circumstances are fairly similar today, says Ms. Sitharaman. “So the regulator has been examining this for a while. The consultations that IRDAI has done includes 60 insurance companies, promoters, and chambers and industry body who made these recommendations,” she says.

FM Sitharaman says many members spoke about LIC. “I want to say this is not about the LIC.”

Ms. Sitharaman talks about how some insurance companies deal with Life while others deal with General Insurance like Health, Agriculture insurance. “There are 4 companies in public sector and 22 in private sector for General Insurance. There are 7 public sector insurance companies while 61 private sector companies. And money should be available for them to do business,” she says.

“You can insure your life with just  Re 1 a day. That’s because of the universe has expanded,” she says.

“What about impact on employment,” the Finance Minister asks.

“The government assures the employment of LIC. But what employees in the private sector? ” she asks.

“In the private sector, 2.67 lakh employees are working against 1.54 lakh employees in public sector companies. 15 lakh agents are there in public sector where as in private sector are over 21 lakhs. We should keep in mind those who are working in the private sector. FDI limit for insurance intermediaries has been enhanced to 100 % in September 2019,” the Finance Minister says.

“Manish Tewari said public sector companies protected India at a time of financial crisis. Yes, it protected. He spoke about selling family silver. Nobody sold any family silver but only strengthened insurance companies,” she says.

“Public sector undertakings will continue. I have already recognised that banking and insurance are strategic sector. The policy is about right sizing public sector and unlocking assets,” she adds.

Ms. Sitharaman refers to the Jaunpur MP and says she is impressed that he spoke in Tamil. Nobody is taking our money outside India. In addition, even a certain amount of their profits will be here, she adds.

“Dr S T Hasan said the proposal is to sell LIC. I want to say no, it’s not to sell LIC. Supriya Sule spoke about Atma Nirbhar Bharat. I would yes but selling family silver, I would say no. I am thankful that she spoke so well about our leaders, Sushma Swaraj ji and Arun Jaitley ji. They spoke about safeguards. The insurance sector has matured and assets under management has increased from 24 lakh crore to 42 lakh crores,” she says.

Responding to Jasprit Singh Gill of Congress who said ‘hamara sab kuch kyu bigar rahe ho’, the Finance Minister says “Indira Gandhi has nationalised banks but the UPA Government nationalised corruption. You ask the dynasty who resorted to sab kuch bigaada (ask the dynasty who spoilt everything)”

The Bill is now moved for passage.

The Insurance (Amendment Bill), 2021 passed by voice vote.

Rajya Sabha | 2 p.m.

Rajya Sabha resumes.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Minister, V Muraleedharan says: “We would propose that Mines and Mineral Bill should be taken up. This Bill is being taken instead of the appropriation Bill.”

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh says Opposition parties are opposed to the Bill; to the provisions of the Bill which will snatch away the powers of the state. We are not against discussing it but it is our request please send it to a select committee.

Manoj K Jha says: “Our view is that this Bill should go to a select committee.”

Bhupender Yadav says: “The Parliament has a procedure. A Bill should be moved in the house and discussion should be initiated. This Bill has already been deliberated upon in a select committee of Rajya Sabha. Yes, there are a few new administrative amendments, but to say that the Bill was not discussed with stakeholders at all is wrong.”

Minister Prahlad Joshi moves The Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2021.

Congress MP Digvijay Singh moves a motion to send the Bill to a select committee.

Cabinet Minister Prahlad Joshi says : “We mine 95 minerals. Approximately it is estimated that we have around 500 tonnes of gold but still we import 983 tonnes of gold. India is the 4th largest reserve for Coal, but we still import Coal. In South Africa and Australia the contribution of mining is nearly 7%.”

“Despite such a mineral portfolio we have under-performed in attracting investments. In the previous governments, allocation of mines were done on a discretionary basis. PM Modi wanted reform in these sectors,” he says.

“Only 10% mines, as per the estimates, have been discovered and out of this too only 1.5% mines are being tapped. The problem is that exploration is being done only by the government. The National Mineral Exploration Trust will allow private bodies also to explore,” he says.

“Before 2015, previous approval of the central government was required for any mining activity or even prospecting. Today the State Govt. can give the mining license. I like to assure on the floor of the house, there is no attempt to take way rights of the State Governments,” he adds.

“143 Mines were handed over to various States. Please do not convert into a Centre-State issue. Most States have supported. First there was some confusion, but Karnataka govt. has also supported it. And many non-BJP run States too support the move,” he says.

“Before Modiji’s arrival, everything worked on discretion, licenses were issued by whims. We brought in transparency. This a progressive Bill and will bring a big change. We are ending the difference between captive and non-captive Mines. The States’ lackadaisical approach has often forced us to import minerals that are available here,” he adds.

“I am assuring you, we are not taking an iota of power of the State Government. Ultimately we want to work with the State Government in this federal structure,” he concludes.

Lok Sabha | 1:58 p.m.

Ganesh Singh of BJP says PM Modi accelerated development. This Bill is part of that process.

“PM Modi is a global thinker and he is being recognised as a global leader. This Bill will improve competition in insurance sector, increase employment and increase coverage. Small insurance companies will also benefit,” he says.

“Insurance companies in the business of crop insurance should open branches in districts so that farmers can benefit. FDI is all good, but domestic capital should also be facilitated and encouraged and protect them from fraud,” he said.

“Domestic companies applying for a banking license have to wait years, that should be looked into,” he added.

Ajay Mishra of BJP says: “When across the world socialist economies have collapsed, to demonise FDI is irresponsible. Countries are competing to attract FDI.”

“The first aim of the Bill is to increase insurance penetration. Even after raising FDI to 49% the progress wasn’t so much but increasing it to 74% and possibilities of owning majority stake may encourage investors. Safeguards are present in the Bill,” he said.

“Asset development in the long run will also be possible. Government should also move to increasing FDI to 100% in insurance sector,” he added.

Lok Sabha | 1.40 pm

Arvind Sawant of Shiv Sena opposes the bill in toto.

“LIC was formed in 1956 and has served the nation, and this bill will hand over a huge chunk of domestic savings to foreigners,” Mr. Sawant says.

“The plans to float an IPO is solely aimed at diluting the government’s stake in LIC. Only crony capitalists in speculative markets will gain by this. Will government continue to give sovereign guarantee after LIC IPO?”

“Please protect LIC from privatisation,” Mr. Sawant says.

Jasbir Singh Gill of Congress says, “Our insurance companies haven’t received even the 49% FDI allowed under the 2015 amendment. So what’s the hurry in raising FDI?”

Mr. Gill says LIC is the crown of our country and after this bill, this crown will probably go to a “Gates or a Zuckerberg”.

“We must protect LIC.”

“Why does the government insist on bulldozing sensitive bills? The farmers bills were bulldozed and this bill, with far-reaching ripple effects, needs to be sent to the standing committee. Don’t keep asserting your brute majority,” Mr. Gill says.

“In the Rajya Sabha, the Finance Minister said that even if the capital is foreign, it will be run by Indians. I just want to say owners are owners, employees remain employees.”

We couldn’t stop Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi, Mehul Choksi, their families, or their money for leaving the country and cocking a snook at us, he says, “the FDI investors are already abroad, what can we do to them if they act up?”

Lok Sabha | 1.30 pm

S.T. Hassan of SP asks, “Today, LIC needs Rs. 16,000 crores and we decide to open the flood gates to FDI and foreign ownership for the reason?” “Our money will go abroad, this FDI will come for profit not for philanthropy,” he says.

Mortgaging the house is no solution to lack of capital, Mr. Hassan says.

B.B. Patil of TRS reads provisions of the bill. He says safeguards will have no effect if ownership goes into foreign hands.

“Enhanced FDI from 2015 has not improved the sector. Insurance penetration is still very low compared to the rest of the world.”

“The projected FDI after this bill is around Rs. 5000 crores, hardly worth it to trade ownership,” he says. Government will not be able to stall flight of capital nor will it be able to stop foreign ownership of LIC, he says, adding, “government should infuse capital and solve solvency issues of domestic and state-owned companies.”

Lok Sabha | 1.25 pm

Supriya Sule of the NCP says she will digress a little, “something which I do not usuallu do”.

“Today, Zero House was rigged.”

“When eight people from one side speak on one issue, couldn’t one of us have been allowed to speak? It is a black day for democracy.”

“No party will be in power forever. PM had said that only two parties don’t rush to the Well – the BJD and NCP. Today, it seemed when we were being punished for following democratic norms.”

Speaking about the Bill, Ms. Sule says this bill was brought in by the UPA, and was opposed by the NDA. “So, I would like to ask the Finance Minister what made you change your mind?”

“Shyam Singh Yadavji is right that it is like ushering in the East India Company. This will weaken Aatmanirbhar Bharat.”

The bill has good intentions, she says, and asks, “but what is really behind the government’s thinking?”

“In Maharashtra, we had a power blackout for over 2 hours recently and it turned out to be a cyber attack by the Chinese. If foreign companies come in, where will the poor go if a similar problem crops up?”

“We are not against privatisation but when everything is being monetised are we getting enough money back?” she asks.

Lok Sabha | 1.20 pm

“I oppose this bill tooth and nail,” Shyam Singh Yadav of BSP says.

“The safeguards in the Bill, are similar to when the East India Company came and colonised India. Foreigners will hijack our insurance companies,” he says.

What these companies invest will be dwarfed by what they take out of the company in profits, he says. “Give Indian companies a chance.”

“Even if God comes, insurance penetration will not rise fast in the country, leave alone by raising FDI limits, as witnessed by when limits was raised from 26% to 49%.”

Problems with claim settlement makes people reluctant to buy insurance, that should be fixed, he says, again announcing his opposition to the bill.

Lok Sabha | 1.15 pm

Sunil Kumar Pintu of JDU says people have changed their perception of insurance. “Earlier, only life and vehicle insurance was considered important. Now people are moving towards comprehensive insurance plans.”

“During the pandemic too people realised that insurance is important.”

With rising FDI, claim settlements have been sped up, he says.

Mr. Pintu says GST of 18% on insurance products is too much. “I would request the Minister to reduce GST on insurance to 5%,” he says.

Employment opportunities will also rise because of this, he says. “I support the bill”

Lok Sabha | 1.05 pm

Magunta Sreenivasulu Reddy of YSRCP says, “During the pandemic, investors were looking for investment avenues and this bill brings opportunities to attract FDI.”

Insurance penetration has to be increased and premium costs have to be brought down, he says.

He traces the history of insurance to Kautilya’s Arthashastra.

“India is currently the 10th largest life-insurance market. But a lot of potential still exists.”

He ends by saying he supports the Bill.

Lok Sabha | 12.45 pm

Jagadambika Pal of the BJP speaks about why people buy insurance. “Insurance penetration was only 3.6% in India in 2014. After raising FDI limits in 2015, it went up to 3.76%.” The Rajya Sabha select committee with MPs from all parties had underlined the need for additional capital in the sector, he says.

“Safeguards have been put in place. This will supplement the needs for additional long term capital. The Bill should thus receive support from the House. This will bring down the cost of insurance and premium rates,” Mr. Pal says.

Mr. Pal speaks of high accident and death rates in the country. He says, every four minutes an Indian dies on road.

He says the bill will raise employment prospects.

Lok Sabha | 12.40 pm

Mr. Tewari says, “India came out of 2008 almost unscathed as our banking and insurance sector was nationalised. India’s economy is in crisis and it wasn’t because of the pandemic but due to certain decisions of this government.”

“Therefore, the economic prescription of this government is to privatise without discrimination. Partially disinvesting LIC by floating an IPO is ominous. It is like selling the family silver. It is not the way to revive the economy of the family.”

Liberalising FDI in insurance is going against the rights of millions of small insurance holders, he says, adding, “Therefore, I would request the Finance Minister to reconsider the legislation.”

“We oppose this bill.”

Lok Sabha | 12.25 pm

Nirmala Sitharaman introduces the bill to amend Insurance Bill.

Sloganeering continues in the House.

Ms. Sitharaman says, “insurance sector is a capital-intensive sector and requires long term capital.” She gives the history of raising of FDI stake. “Rs. 26,000 came in after FDI was raised to 49% in 2015. 12 new companies have 26% FDI.”

“Total assets under the management of insurance companies has seen a 76% hike. Whereas GDP grew only by 63%. So, the raising of FDI limits in insurance in 2015 led to much change. Insurance companies are facing capital constraints.”

Ms. Sitharaman says, “The pandemic has also caused a liquidity stress because of the central and State government borrowing from the debt market. It is critical that we pass this bill.”

 

Manish Tewari of the Congress, says, “This bill has large and ominous implications in the times to come. This bill to raise FDI in insurance sector from 49% to 74% cannot be seen in isolation. This drive to privatise is part of the drive to fill the large hole in government finances.”

Mr. Tewari continues, “When P. Chidamabaram in 2004 proposed raising FDI limit to 49%, late Vajpayee said in this House that he opposed it. In 2008, when the proposal was raised again, the standing committee on finance headed by former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha said no.”

“In 2012 too, BJP again refused. Interestingly, when BJP came to power, they brought an ordinance on the issue. Thus, our position on the issue seems to be determined by where one is sitting, on Opposition benches or Treasury.”

“The conceptual question we need to ask is whether we are scared of FDI? The answer is no, we are not scared. Since, in 1991, we (INC) were the original liberalisers.”

“The question is not whether to open up or not, but rather about how much and which sector to open up.”

Mr. Tewari says, “This is to make it clear that our opposition is not to the liberalisation of the economy, but to liberalisation in certain sectors which will have certain consequences.”

Lok Sabha | 12.20 pm

Shiv Sena walks out of the House as the incidents of Maharashtra were brought up by Members in the House during Zero Hour.

Gireesh Bapat of the BJP speaks in Marathi.

Ravneet Singh Bittu of the Congress says this is a serious issue, and that this seems to always happen in non-BJP States, “where the Centre sends it agencies and political games are played and officers who are really guilty of transgressions are left to walk scot free.”

“You want to destabilise the MVA government just like you did in Madhya Pradesh,” he says.

Navneet Rana, Independent, asks how Sachin Vaze was reinstated. “Uddhav Thackeray asked for his reinstatement and Devendra Fadnavis, when he was the Chief Minister, refused. He was reinstated when the MVA government came to power and because of Vaze, Param Bir Singh was transferred. This is all due to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.”

P.P. Choudhary of the BJP says, “The police officer in question briefed the Chief Minister and the NCP chief before he wrote the letter with the serious allegations.”

Poonam Mahajan of the BJP says that this is a “three-wheeler government where one wheel has come off.”

“Extortion is serious. Why is the Shiv Sena defending the actions of NCP’s Anil Deshmukh?” she asks.

Rajya Sabha | 12.10 pm

Rajya Sabha adjourned till 2 p.m.

Congress MP Chaya Verma was trying to ask the Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar about the destruction of crops in various States due to wildlife. Instead of answering her question, Mr. Javdekar tried to speak about the Maharashtra issue. At this, Deputy Chairman Harivansh, who was in the chair, adjourned the House.

The Treasury Benches started protesting at 12 p.m. soon after the Question Hour began.

Lok Sabha | 12.05 pm

Nirmala Sitharaman introduces the National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development Bill, 2021.

Zero Hour begins.

Manoj Kotak of the BJP raises the issue of allegations by former Mumbai Police Commissioner Parambir Singh against Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.

“Maharashtra HM should resign. This is a government only to loot the people,” he says. “If in Mumbai the situation is this bad, what about the rest of the State? CBI should probe the allegations.”

Rakesh Singh of BJP says, “When democratic rights become about posting officers only for private profit, it becomes an issue for the whole . The man making the allegations was once hailed as a good officer by the same government. Under what circumstances was the ASI reappointed?”

“NCP leaders, till yesterday, were saying issue was serious. This morning the tune has changed? Is it because of fear of the Maharashtra Home Minister spilling the beans on who all were on the take in that government? A non-partisan enquiry should be held.”

Kapil Patil of BJP says the letter by the former police commissioner makes serious allegations. “A senior leader said the matter was serious. By evening, his tune changed. Maybe because the Maharashtra HM threatened to reveal all.”

Vinayak Raut of Shiv Sena says, “For many months all attempts to destabilise the Maha Vikas Aghadi have not succeeded and the Centre’s plans are clear. Who is this Parambir Singh? I can reveal what all he has been up to. Former commissioner Julio Rebeiro has revealed a lot about him.”

Rajya Sabha | 12 pm

Protests from the Opposition. Chairman Naidu says there were 13 Zero Hour mentions and 6 Special Mentions.

It is not clear what the protest is about, as the Chairman has given clear instructions that the protest not be shown on TV.

Question Hour begins amidst din in Rajya Sabha.

It is the Treasury Benches that are protesting against Congress and Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra, in connection with the letter by former Maharashtra DGP alleging that the State Home Minister was running an extortion racket.

I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar says, “we have seen that so far it was the terrorists who were planting bombs. But in Maharashtra, it is the police doing this.”

The Question Hour continues amidst this din.

Lok Sabha | 12 pm

Ritesh Pandey of BSP says the recent report by IWG states a proposal that corporate houses can get banking licenses. “This is nothing less than a bomb. Money will be diverted to fatten the corporate accounts.”

Mr. Thakur says many suggestions are sent via reports and RBI will take a call. “Secondly, private entities are there in banking sector even now. Before nationalisation too, private interests ran banks. We want competitive banking sector and benefit to customers,” he says.

Question Hour ends, papers being tabled.

Rajya Sabha | 11.45 am

Maharaja Sanajaoba Leishemba of BJP demands that IAS examination be held in Manipur also. “There are no examination centers in Imphal. Our students are facing hardship. The lower middle class students are unable to sit for the exam.”

Sushil Modi of BJP says, “All India Judicial Service has not seen the light of the day despite a 45-years long campaign. There should be reservation for SC/ST/OBC. I urge government of India to take all stakeholders into confidence to make it happen.”

Lok Sabha | 11.45 am

Rahul Shewale of Shiv Sena says, “Corporate Social Responsibility funds are often re-routed back to companies via trusts. How can this be stopped?”

Anurag Thakur, MoS Finance, giving background of the CSR Act, says, “we have clarified where unspent funds are to be lodged. The MP should tell us if he has a specific case in mind.”

Mr. Shewale says, “we always get excuses that CSR funds are being sent to PM National Relief Fund and do not receive it locally.”

Mr. Thakur responds, “Maharashtra has got the largest share of funds, nearly Rs. 12,700 crores out of more than Rs. 72,000 crores. No other State is even close.”

Disturbance in the House as the Minister refers to events in Maharashtra with regard to Parambir Singh’s accusations.

Mr. Thakur continues and says, “The allegations made against Maharashtra government are serious.”

Ravneet Singh Bittu of the Congress says, “After setting up PMCARE funds, everything else saw cuts, and money from CSR only went there. You have diverted funds from everywhere else to PMCARES fund.”

Mr. Thakur responding to Mr. Bittu says, most funds go to three sectors – education, health and rural development projects with livelihood enhancement.

“Schedule 7 clarifies where government funds can go. Non governmental funds should not be confused with it,” he says.

Lok Sabha | 11.30 am

Manish Tewari of the Congress says the ASI has neither capacity nor bandwidth to take care of India’s heritage. “Why can’t you set up a consultative committee in districts with MPs who can raise local resources for preservation,” he asks.

Mr. Patel responds, “The ASI has national and international reputation and I object to this statement. At the district level, there are preservation societies where MPs are members. Maybe at the Honourable Member’s State he is not called for meetings.”

Nihal Singh Chauhan of the BJP says, “Petrol and diesel prices are highest in my district of Sriganganagar. It is over Rs. 100 per litre. Even in the neighbouring Punjab, fuel is Rs. 10 cheaper than at my place.”

Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister for Finance, says, “The original question was about closing of depots, not about pricing due to distance.”

Mr. Chauhan further says, “can you consider joining Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh with Bhatinda or reopen the HPCL depot?”

Ms. Sitharaman says, “These two places maybe closer to Punjab but Rajasthan’s taxes will be applicable. Specifically, the depot was close due to safety related issues. Reconsideration to open is not on.”

Prajjwal Revanna of JDS asks, “Who identifies tourism sites and what is the criterion. Why is Karnataka being ignored?”

Mr. Patel responds, “Hampi is on the list of 21 iconic sites, and no one is ignoring Karnataka . Some funds given to Karnataka was returned unused and with interest. Now, State government has sent some projects for consideration.”

Mr. Revanna says, “As per previous answers on the subject, Karnataka has been ignored. Other than Hampi, there are various other sites that need attention.”

Mr. Patel reads out the quantum of funds given to Karnataka, adding, “but this was returned unused. We are in the process of relisting monuments for providing central support, and many Karnataka monuments will feature there.”

Umesh Jadhav of the BJP says, “There is no information about the proposal for preservation of Gulbarga heritage monuments.”

Mr. Patel says Bidar, Gulbarga and Yadgir proposal has come to us and we have taken it up with the State government.

Rajya Sabha | 11.30 am

Rewati Raman Singh of SP says, “the commercialisation of Himalayas could be disastrous. The government is constructing four new dams, and for the Chaar Dham Yatra, scores of trees are being cut. The Chamoli incident is a result of this uncontrolled construction.”

Shakti Sinh Gohil of Congress says, “there are only 675 Asiatic Lions as per the latest survey. Roughly 300 lions have been killed in accidents while crossing the rail track. I would request the government to look into it.”

Manoj Kumar Jha of RJD says, “In this time of the pandemic, three to four crore ration cards have been cancelled. Initially, it was said that they are bogus cards. But later, it turned out that these have been cancelled because of finger print mismatch. And this has resulted in deaths due to hunger. It is unfortunate that people are dying of hunger in our country. I would urge the government to restore these ration cards.”

Bhagwat Karad of BJP speaks in Marathi. He is the second Member to speak in a regional language during the Zero Hour. The first Member was Sasmit Patra of BJD.

Neeraj Dangi of Congress raises the issue of non-implementation of the reservation qouta in IAS exams. He protests against lateral appointment of director and joint secretaries. “This is another method of bypassing the reservation policy.”

Ramnath Thakur of JD(U) says, “More than half of the posts reserved for the OBC are lying vacant. I would urge the government to hold a special campaign to fill these vacancies for the reserved castes.”

Lok Sabha | 11.20 am

G. Ranjit Reddy of TRS asks for a legal backing for the right to skill development, and also for a skill development Centre in Hyderabad.

Mr. Pandey replies, “We want to encourage States to take this forward and we are also considering the various requests by States.”

Upendra Singh Rawat of BJP asks about preservation and development of heritage properties and monuments by Archaeological Survey of India in Uttar Pradesh. “In Barabanki, there are many Artifacts connected to Mahabharata,” he says, and asks for their preservation by ASI.

Prahlad Patel, Minister for Culture and Tourism, says, “ASI has started a project to relist monuments and increase the number of those registered under Centre’s care.”

Mr. Rawat says access to online ticketing is not widespread and gives opportunity to touts who fool tourists and grab revenue that should have accrued to the government.

Mr. Patel says that instructions to allow both online and physical ticketing have been given.

Rajya Sabha | 11.10 am

Zero Hour Begins in Rajya Sabha.

Dr. Narendra Jhadav raises the issues of cyber attacks on critical infrastructure.

Mr. Jadhav says, “The recent cyber attack on Mumbai power grid shows the vulnerability of the critical infrastructure in India. The Maharashtra Police has found evidence of  Trojan invasion. I don’t want to sound like an alarmist but this could escalate into nuclear meltdown.”

Sasmit Patra of BJD speaks in Odia.

Lok Sabha | 11.10 am

Question Hour begins.

Bhagwanth Khuba of BJP asks a question on skill development. “The Minister gives an answer but the answer provides no solutions for skilling of those who belong to economically weaker sections. Departments are unable to fulfil targets.”

Mahendra Pandey, Minister for Skill Development, says, “Our entire system in the Ministry is geared towards EWS only. Even the New Education Policy is geared towards it and our focus is on EWS.”

Supplementary question by Mr. Khuba: “every district should have skilling centres.”

Mr. Pandey says the Ministry has focussed on district skill committees. “Migrants who went home during pandemic also used these facilities.”

Sunil Kumar Singh of BJP says, “Currently there are 248 operative Jan Shikshan Sansthan. The Minister had said 83 more were to be opened. I want to ask specifically about my constituency of Chhatra (Jharkhand ). When will they be set up?”

Mr. Pandey says, “In Jharkhand, currently, 3 JSS are operative and 14 more are planned including in Chhatra.”

Lok Sabha | 11 am

Lok Sabha proceedings begin for the day.

Rajendra Agarwal is presiding over the House as Speaker Om Birla has tested positive for COVID-19.

The House observes two minutes silence and obituary references to Dilip Gandhi and Mohan Bhai Patel are made.

Rakesh Singh says he wants to raise a particular issue, to which, the Chair says it is allowed in the Zero Hour.

“We all know that our respected Speaker is down with COVID-19, we wish him a speedy recovery,” says Rajendra Agarawal.

Rajya Sabha | 11 am

Rajya Sabha proceedings begin.

Chairman Venkaiah Naidu says, “Today, March 22, is World Water Day. This year, the UN theme for the day is ‘valuing water’. With the ever-growing population, demand for water has increased manifold. The situation has been further exacerbated by reckless use of water. Our country has 16% of the world’s population but only 4% of fresh water.”

The Chairman makes an appeal to all Members: “Whatever you want to talk about, you can talk outside the House. Particularly when the Chair is making an observation, it is not fair to cause distraction.”

Rajya Sabha

Legislative business

Bill for consideration and return

The Appropriation (No.2) Bill, 2021

Lok Sabha

Obituary references

Obituary references to the passing away of Mohanbhai Patel (Member, Seventh and Eighth Lok Sabhas); and Dilipkumar Mansukhlal Gandhi (Member, Thirteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Lok Sabhas) to be made in the House.

Legislative business

Bill to be introduced

The National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development Bill, 2021

Bills for consideration and passing

The Finance Bill, 2021

The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021

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