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Sunday, April 28, 2013

After dragging feet, dose of tinkering - New bill carries risk of delay

After dragging feet, dose of tinkering
- New bill carries risk of delay

Calcutta, April 27: Mamata Banerjee's zeal for a new anti-fraud bill could delay action against Saradha for months but has only a few differences with the old Left-sponsored bill her government has withdrawn, officials said today.

"Except for three provisions and a few other minor changes, the language of the two bills is identical," a law department official said. (See chart)

A senior Writers' bureaucrat said the legislative steps that the new bill must pass through will take up "at least six to eight months".

Had the chief minister wanted to be armed with a bill immediately, she could have first pressed for presidential assent to the old bill — in limbo since its passage in 2009 — and then added the new provisions through amendments, law department officials said.

They said the amended bill could have been enacted in less than a month. "But the chief minister is vehemently opposed to accepting a bill moved by the Left with minor amendments," a source said.

A copy of the West Bengal Protection of Interest of Depositors in Financial Establishments Bill, 2013, was circulated among MLAs today since the government plans to place it in the Assembly on April 30.

Officials said that after the Assembly passes it and the governor signs it, the new bill must be sent to the Union home ministry for clearance, then on to the Union finance ministry, and then to the Union law ministry before it reaches the President.

Although Mamata has requested President Pranab Mukherjee to fast-track the bill's clearance in Delhi, a senior IAS officer at Writers' said the due diligence cannot be hurried through. "Even if everything is okay in the new bill, it will take at least six to eight months to get presidential assent," he said.

All this has prompted the Opposition charge that the state government is actually trying to shield Saradha by delaying a law against companies defrauding depositors.

"The government could have persuaded the Centre to clear the bill our Left government had sent in 2009, but it didn't. Now a fresh legislation is being brought. That will delay action against the Saradha owner," CPM state secretary Biman Bose said.

Some lawyers have cited the possibility of legal challenges further delaying the new bill's enactment as it seeks retrospective application. "If a commission set up by the government recommends action against a company or people attached with it, the bill will apply retrospectively to allow this," a government panel lawyer said.

This provision, in Clause 22(2), may expose the bill to legal challenge, said former law minister Rabilal Moitra. "Retrospective effect cannot be given to a bill with penal provisions."

Officials said that if the old bill were enacted, its provisions would have applied from the day it was passed in 2009 and no retrospective effect would have been needed.

PM stand

The Centre too is keeping up pressure. The Prime Minister today said "unauthorised collection of deposits" with promises of "exorbitant rate of return... is something which has to be curbed". Officials said the PMO and finance ministry would monitor all actions against such practice.


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