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Govt flexes muscle on PM aide & Andhra

TRS MPs protest against the Polavaram ordinance outside Parliament on Friday. (PTI)

New Delhi, July 11: The government today pushed two controversial bills in the Lok Sabha, using its overwhelming numbers to brush aside the Opposition’s charges of constitutional impropriety.

One of these was the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, aimed at legitimising the appointment of former telecom regulator Nripendra Mishra as principal secretary to the Prime Minister.

It was introduced in the Lok Sabha to replace an ordinance amid protests by Opposition members, who questioned the constitutional propriety of bringing in a bill “in the interest of just one bureaucrat”.

The other was the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to merge 200-odd Telangana villages with Andhra Pradesh to pave the way for the Polavaram irrigation project in Andhra.

Residents of these villages are likely to be displaced by the Polavaram dam, and the Centre as well as the Andhra government believe their rehab should be handled by one state. The UPA government had introduced the ordinance that the bill seeks to replace.

It was passed by a voice vote amid din without entertaining the demands for a vote from the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, Trinamul Congress and the Biju Janata Dal.

Once both Houses pass the Trai amendment bill, it will replace the 1997 Trai act that debarred the chairperson of the telecom regulator from taking up a government job after retirement. This clause was aimed at ensuring the regulator’s independence.

Mishra, a former IAS officer, is a retired Trai chairperson.

Trinamul member Saugata Roy opposed the amendment bill but the Congress sat quietly. Party leaders said they would oppose the bill strongly in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling coalition lacks a majority.

Roy said the bill was being pushed to legitimise the appointment of just one retired bureaucrat and, in the process, would compromise the independence of the telecom regulator.

Communication and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, argued the amendment meant to bring Trai on a par with similar bodies like the competition commission, pension authority and the insurance authority. Their chairpersons can take up government posts after retirement.

“This whole opposition has no merit in terms of rules and otherwise,” Prasad argued.

There was stiffer opposition to the Andhra bill but Speaker Sumitra Mahajan stood firm. Opposition members argued the bill violated the Constitution and would submerge over 300 villages.

“Interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution is primarily the responsibility of the court of law,” the Speaker said.

Agitated Telangana Rashtra Samiti members protested in the well, arguing that since the bill proposed to redraw Telangana’s boundaries, the state legislature’s views should be taken.

Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal said a case was pending in the Supreme Court against the decision to increase the dam’s height, which would allegedly inundate 307 villages in Telangana, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Andhra. He urged the government to defer the bill.

“A case is pending in the Supreme Court. Now we are being told that whatever law we make here will be interpreted in the Supreme Court…. This is not okay,” Mahtab said.

Mahajan dismissed the objection with a curt: “It is okay. Thank you.”