Lok Sabha passed the Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Bill, 2019

The Lok Sabha  passed the Special Economic Zones (Amendment) Bill, 2019, making a trust or any entity notified by the Central government eligible for consideration of grant of permission to set up a unit in special economic zones.

Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said the Bill, which would replace an ordinance, was aimed at improving and encouraging more investments and introducing features including single-window clearance and to ease imports and exports.

“To attract both domestic and international investors, the Prime Minister wants to keep up with the evolving business environment,” Mr. Goyal said, introducing the legislation. “To this effect, we want to add alternative investment funds trust in the definition of persons,” he added.

Opposition parties, however, questioned the manner in which the Bill had been brought in, with Congress MP Shashi Tharoor stating, “As per rule, an ordinance can be promulgated only when the President deems it necessary in emergency situations and when issues of extreme urgency arise and when it’s not possible to wait for Parliament to convene.”

“The Minister has to explain the urgency in this matter,” Mr. Tharoor said. “The PM must not treat this House as a rubber stamp for his political agenda. The Congress is proud of India’s economic growth, but we urge this government to stop with the ordinances and bring Bills to this Parliament for debate and discussion,” he added.

“We have failed as members of Parliament to keep a check on the misuse of this Article,” the Congress MP asserted, adding “There is no cogent reason given for this emergency situation”.

Asserting that the country was ‘unfortunately’ yet to realise the vision of the SEZ Act 2005, Mr. Tharoor said: “Currently unemployment in India has reached the highest rate in about 45 years. In the last five years, our exports have barely increased by 10%. According to replies in the House, 150 SEZs are non operational. Half the land notified for SEZs is lying vacant, exports are not growing fast enough to help generate employment. What structural reforms will you undertake to ensure the advance of this policy?’’

Questioning the government for the urgency in passing an ordinance, DMK leader D.N.V. Senthilkumar said: “Large chunk of trusts owned by minorities have been shut down under the previous Act. There are suspicions that the government has a hidden agenda to favour a selected few who are close to the government and have vested interests.”

BJD member Bhartruhari Mahtab asked how the provision of bringing trusts and entitities under the new amendment would encourage FDI inflows.

“The only thing mentioned in the Bill is you are making an amendment to bring trusts and ‘any entity’ (it needs to be defined). But it should be notified by the Central government,” said Mr. Mahtab. “A law on policy has to be non-discriminatory and without any discretion. In the last 10 years, more bungling has taken place with more discretionary power of the decision-making authority. The idea was that FDI will increase with the SEZ Act. But last year, the FDI came down,” he asserted.

Replying to Opposition Mr. Goyal said that many progresive Bills have been blocked due to the disturbances and delays of both the Houses. Hence the Ordinance route has been adopted. “In the Constitution, the President has been vested with powers to promulgate an Ordinance after analyzing its merits,’’ he said.

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