The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Patents get Left blessing

New Delhi, March 18: A last-minute U-turn by the Left parties helped the Congress-led UPA government to introduce the controversial patents bill in the Lok Sabha today amid vociferous protests from the Opposition.

The bill, which was piloted by commerce minister Kamal Nath, seeks to replace a December 26 ordinance to meet world trade obligation of allowing product patents in pharmaceuticals, agricultural products and embedded software.

Though the Left parties lent their voice in opposing the bill in Parliament, the CPM hinted that it may support the bill because the government had accepted seven out of the 12 amendments the party had suggested.

'India cannot remain outside the global economic system,' said CPM's Rajya Sabha leader Nilotpal Basu. 'We have progressed quite a bit in getting the government to accept our amendments. Only the rough edges have to be sorted out,' Basu said.

In the Lok Sabha, however, the Left MPs, along with the Opposition, contended that the House has no legislative competence to pass the bill that threatened the fundamental right to life of people.

The CPM parliamentarians from Kerala were more vocal while the Left MPs from Bengal took the backseat. In fact, Roopchand Pal, a senior Bengal MP, was seen trying to pacify the Kerala comrades.

Suresh Kurup of the CPM said the ordinance was promulgated behind the back of Parliament and was against all democratic norms.

Another CPM member V. Radhakrishnan accused the government of committing a 'fraud on the constitution' by invoking emergency provisions under article 123 to bring in the ordinance.

Kamal Nath, however, assured the members that they would get an opportunity to discuss the bill in the House.

Trying to explain the discrepancy in CPM's stand within and outside the House, Basu said, 'Negotiations went on till late last night. There was a communication gap.'

'One of our amendments accepted by the government is on compulsory licensing ' a provision that will enable Indian companies to manufacture even those drugs which are patented in emergency situations,' said Pal.

Interestingly, BJP, which had piloted the patents bill during the NDA regime, is now opposing it to gain political mileage.

The party had hoped to embarrass the government in and outside Parliament with the Left's opposition to the bill. This is one of the reasons why the CPM is reluctant to go into confrontation with the government on patents issue.

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