Opposition protests in Rajya Sabha bill to hike FDI in insurance to 74%

Illustration: Binay Sinha

Opposition parties Thursday strongly protested in Rajya Sabha a bill to hike foreign direct investment in the insurance sector to 74 per cent and wanted its scrutiny by a parliamentary standing committee, but the Upper House approved the proposed law with the government not paying any heed to the demand.

The Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2021 seeks to raise FDI in the sector to 74 per cent from the existing 49 per cent, and remove restrictions on the ownership and control on insurance companies. This would enable foreign companies to own and control insurance firms in India.

The Upper House witnessed four adjournments in the afternoon sitting after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman moved the bill for further amendment of the Insurance Act 1938 for consideration and passage in the House.

After the bill was moved, Leader of Opposition (LoP) Mallikarjun Kharge said the amendments will put people in "trouble". The Insurance Act 1938 is being amended for the third time, he said.

He said the Act was first amended during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure when 26 per cent FDI was allowed in the sector.

Later in 2015, the law was amended further to allow 49 per cent FDI and now the amendment is for allowing 74 per cent, he added.

"I want the bill to be scrutinised to address the gaps and it should be referred to a standing committee," Kharge said.

Later after four adjournments, Kharge said in the House, "I am not going to make a speech. He (Congress' Anand Sharma) will make a speech. But my request is that this is a very important matter. It pertains to crores of people's lives and crores of rupees are invested. Nearly 58 companies are involved in this. Therefore, we are requesting, you refer this bill to a standing committee and everything will come out."

Deputy Chairman Harivansh explained that the amendment for sending a bill to a standing committee is given either by the government or by the Opposition, but neither has done so in this case.

Kharge said it was "unfortunate" the government does not want to send it to a standing committee. "The government is adamant. They don't want stake-holders to come and talk on this bill and give their representation. They will come to know tomorrow whether they have done good or bad, when there would be strike."

He further said, "They (government) did not send the three farm bills to a standing committee or joint select committee. Crores of people are sitting on roads because of this."

Tiruchi Siva (DMK) said, "Discussion in the House within a few hours will not serve the purpose of passing any law in real sense. So the only scrutiny in standing or select committee will give scope for stakeholders to present before the committee and express their views...but the government is very adamant on passing the bill."

He further said, "As a responsible opposition party, we will cooperate and participate in the proceedings and place our view on record, against the bill or about the bill."

Congress' Anand Sharma said, "A bill must go through Parliament scrutiny. The government wants to push it though. Insurance is a strategic and social sector. This sector harnesses saving and reinvests in India's development. We must not forget that insurance policy also provides social security cover to a lot of common people."

Sharma asked, "Is it disinvestment or are you leapfrogging towards privatisation or are you embarking on a path of privatisation or is it a grand clearance for the sale of India's national assets built by people of India?"

Participating in the debate, Siva said, "Insurance sector was opened to the private sector through the IRDA (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority Act) 1999 under the NDA government. Initially the IRDA allowed for 26 per cent foreign equity in private insurance companies and subsequently in 2015 it was enhanced to 49 per cent. The government has now proposed to increase it from 49 to 74 per cent.

"It is interesting to note that the actual share of FDI in total share of investments in private insurance today is much less than the current limit of 49 per cent...so there is no justification of increasing FDI in insurance frm 49 per cent to 74 per cent, Siva said.

He noted that even during the recession period, the country withstood the impact due to two sectors --public sector undertakings and agriculture, and now these two were being targeted.

"We urge that the public sector undertakings need to be protected at any cost and they should not be disinvested and privatised," Banda Prakash (TRS) said, adding institutions like LIC should remain 100 per cent under government control.

Vishambhar Prasad Nishad (SP) opposed the bill, saying it was against the people of the country and should be sent to a select committee.

Similarly, Jharna Das Baidya (CPI-M) and Manoj Kumar Jha (RJD) also opposed the bill. Praful Patel (NCP) said that the bill should be sent to the standing committee for further improvement.

"We will all come with good suggestions which are in the interest of the country. Please do not hurry this important legislation," he noted.

Pilli Subhash Chandra Bose (YSRCP) and Ramchandra Prasad Singh (JD-U) supported the bill.

Shiv Sena's Anil Desai said the government should boost state-owned insurance companies by infusing capital and improving solvency ratio.

TDP Kanakamedala Ravindra Kumar urged the government to relook at the issue of raising FDI limit in the insurance sector.

Notwithstanding the Opposition's arguments, Rajya Sabha approved the bill.



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