Rules for the FDI face-off

The winter session of Parliament follows a heavily disrupted monsoon session. In the last session, the Lok Sabha lost 80 per cent and the

Rajya Sabha 73 per cent of scheduled time due to disruptions following the CAG’s report on the allocation of

coal blocks. That issue remains unresolved. Subsequently, the issue of permitting FDI in multi-brand retail has taken centrestage.

The government’s move to permit FDI in multi-brand retail has been criticised not just by opposition parties, but also by some of its supporters. Indeed, the TMC walked out of the UPA on this issue. It may be useful to review the different options available to MPs to raise the issue.

The notification allowing FDI was an executive action and does not need prior parliamentary approval. Only the change in regulations issued under FEMA needs to be tabled in Parliament (and MPs may move a resolution to amend or annul the regulation). However, all executive actions do come under the oversight power of the legislature, and Parliament has the right to debate and require any amendments.

There are four main procedures under which there could be a discussion in the Lok Sabha — a debate without voting under Rule 193, a motion (with a vote) under Rule 184, and an adjournment motion or a no-confidence motion. There could also be a statutory resolution to amend or annul FEMA regulations. Each procedure has a different political implication.

The first procedure is often used to debate national issues on a variety of subjects. For example, five such discussions were taken up in the budget session this year. These included labour regulations, civil aviation policy, pollution of the River Ganga, foodgrains storage and Centre-state relations. Parliament spent about 9 per cent of the total productive time of that session on these debates. It is important to note that discussions under Rule 193 have no direct consequence and only require the minister to respond to the various issues raised.

The second option is that of a motion with a vote under Rule 184. The debate is on a specific question, and this is followed by a vote to determine Parliament’s position on the issue. Passage of a motion would require the government to follow Parliament’s decision on the issue. Such motions are not very common. For example, in August 2011, opposition parties had demanded a debate with voting on the issue of rising prices. However, the motion that was moved did not require any specific action and only called upon the government “to take immediate effective steps to check inflation that will give relief to the common man.” The motion was adopted after a seven-hour debate.

The third option is that of an “adjournment motion” that requires the House to adjourn. Passage of an adjournment motion does not require the government to resign. However, it is seen as a strong censure of the government. The last session of Parliament commenced with an adjournment motion moved by L.K. Advani on issues related to the violence in Kokrajhar in Assam. The motion was defeated after a discussion that lasted nearly five hours.

The fourth option has the strongest implication. A no-confidence motion (or a confidence motion moved by the prime minister) measures the support of the Lok Sabha to the government. Losing such a motion requires the government to resign. It is usually a one-line motion, but MPs can discuss a number of issues while stating their support or opposition to the government. The last such motion was in the previous Lok Sabha in July 2008, after the Left parties pulled out support to UPA 1. The government won the motion.

Finally, the FDI issue could be debated under a different procedure. The FDI notification has been enabled through an amendment to FEMA regulations. Any MP may move a motion for the annulment of the new regulations. Annulment would invalidate the notification that permits FDI in retail. Such motions are not common, and only two have been moved during the UPA 2 government’s term. In the budget session this year, two motions — for the annulment of Information Technology Rules and modification of the Airport Authority of India Development Fees Rules — were moved in the Rajya Sabha. In both cases, the respective minister made certain assurances, but neither motion was passed.

In sum, there are several methods. with different political implications. available to MPs who would like a debate on the FDI issue. A no-confidence motion would question the continuance of the current government. An adjournment motion could censure the government. A motion under Rule 184 or to annul the FDI regulation could require reversal of the policy. A debate under Rule 193 (without a vote) would only require a response from the minister.

The stance taken by various parties will be based on a combination of their views on the issue, the potential costs to the stability of the government under the given procedure, as well as the likely positions that other parties may take. This may guide the choice of procedure adopted by parties that want to raise the issue.