The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Winter bills catch Left chill

New Delhi, Nov. 24: The government’s hope of making Parliament’s winter session “productive” with the passage of three important bills — on banking, pension and tribal affairs — appears to have run aground after the Left refused to play ball.

External affairs minister and leader of the Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee had a lunch meeting with Left leaders in Parliament today to break the impasse on the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill and the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill.

Finance minister P. Chidambaram was also present at the talks. According to sources, the Left leaders told Mukherjee they would “get back” to him and another meeting has been slotted for Wednesday.

On the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill, the CPM reiterated its opposition to two provisions —making 1980 the cut-off date for legalising the right of tribals to own forest land that they have been cultivating, and two, evicting non-tribal land-holders from their forest dwellings.

“A cut-off date of over two decades ago will mean a mass eviction of the tribals,” said its MP Brinda Karat. Those who settled after 1980 will have to move out if the bill becomes law.

Brinda, who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today with a delegation of tribal representatives, voiced the CPM’s concerns over the government’s alleged efforts to dilute the recommendations of a joint parliamentary committee that looked into the bill.

Government sources said there was “no way” they could accept the proposal to bring forward the cut-off date to 2004. “There will be huge opposition from the environment lobby. Its refrain is the forests will then be overrun by human beings,” a source said.

“We are bringing the bill essentially to rectify a historical wrong, but 1980 is as far as we can go.”

The Forest Conservation Act enacted in 1980 is widely thought to have added to the problem of land alienation of forest-dwellers by taking away their ownership rights.

The government suggested bringing another bill for non-tribals, but the proposal was shot down by the CPM. Sources said the only way out is to introduce a special rule in the bill to address the CPM’s demand.

The only concession the government is prepared to make is to enhance the land ceiling from the present limit of 2.5 hectares per person.

On the women’s reservation bill, Mukherjee is expected to discuss the RJD’s call for another all-party meeting with the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi. RJD chief Lalu Prasad yesterday demanded a quota for other backward classes within the proposed 33 per cent quota for women in Parliament and Assemblies.

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