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Panic stalls pension

New Delhi, March 23: Patents on course, pension on hold.

The pension bill that seeks to link a part of returns to market forces has been put on hold the day the patents legislation was passed by Parliament with the help of the Left.

The whiff of a give-and-take hung heavy in the air but the Left insisted that a question mark over the survival of the government ' the first such scare since the Congress-led coalition came to power ' had forced the retreat on the pension bill.

The controversial legislation, which would have opened the doors for private players to the pension sector and allowed them to invest a part of the funds in the stock market, was today referred to a standing committee of MPs.

The finance ministry was keen to push ahead with the legislation but coalition managers were unwilling to take chances as it is a money bill. If a money bill is defeated, a government has little option but to resign.

Had the Left carried out its threat to vote against the government, the bill would not only have bombed but also brought the government down.

The handover to the standing committee means the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill cannot be passed before April 8, the day when the ordinance concerned lapses.

The expiry will not affect the new pension scheme, where employees have to contribute a defined portion of the salary, but the segment will stay closed to the private sector.

The decision to postpone the pension bill came a day after the Left backed the government on the patents amendment bill in the Lok Sabha. The bill cleared the full Parliament test today with the Rajya Sabha passing it.

Shifting from the initial blanket opposition, the Left agreed to support the patents bill after the government incorporated several amendments.

'But there was no possibility of any negotiation on the pension bill. We told the government we will vote against the bill,' said CPM politburo member Prakash Karat.

This is the first time in this coalition's life that the Left was ready to put the government's fate at risk. The Left had accepted a request by defence minister Pranab Mukherjee not to move cut motions on any budget proposal.

The tough stand on pension reflects the Left's eagerness ' the CPM congress is beginning on April 6 ' to send a signal to the rank and file that it is not dancing to the tune of the government on all issues.

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