A spanner may have been thrown in the government works on foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail. The issue came up in a public interest suit that alleged the government had allowed 51 per cent FDI into the multi-brand retail sector without framing rules and regulations and without the assent of both houses of Parliament. The petition, moved by Supreme Court lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma, was taken up on October 1.
While replying to the Supreme Court, Attorney General G Vahanvati had said three amendments had been notified on October 30, enabling the government to allow FDI into the multi-brand retail sector. The changes were made to the Foreign Exchange Management Act (Transfer of Security by a Person Resident Outside India) Regulations, 2012. The Supreme Court adjourned the hearing of the PIL till January 22 next year.
While doing so, Justice Lodha said to Sharma, "Why do you presume that the government will not place the amendments before Parliament? If the provisions require them to do so, they will have to do it. Your apprehensions are premature and unfounded. If Parliament does not approve the amendments, it will be at their [the Centre's] own risk and peril." The bench said the matter was being adjourned to the new year in the expectation the changes in the Fema (Foreign Exchange Management Act) would be brought in the winter session of Parliament.
If Fema is not amended, FDI in retail cannot be operational. "The rules framed under Fema will have to be brought before both the Houses of Parliament. If no objections are raised by Parliament then it is deemed to be approved but if there are objections then there is a possibility of voting, too," said Piyush Goyal, MP and BJP treasurer.
Section 48 of Fema reads: "Every rule and regulation made under this Act shall be laid, as soon as may be after it is made, before each House of Parliament, while it is in session for a total period of thirty days which may be comprised in one session or in two or more successive sessions, and if, before the expiry of the session immediately following the session or the successive sessions aforesaid, both Houses agree in making any modification in the rule or regulation, or both Houses agree that the rule or regulation should not be made, the rule or regulation shall thereafter have effect only in such modified form or be of no effect, as the case may be; so, however, that any such modification or annulment shall be without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done under that rule or regulation".
A minister says the government is not liable to bring changes in Fema to Parliament. A senior Congress leader explained amendments, if any, needed to be examined closely. If the amendments are generic or particular, the commerce and law ministries will advise and Parliamentary strategy will depend on that. Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari said, "FDI in retail is a political call, which has been taken by the UPA in the interests of farmers and consumers. So whatever is essential to implement that would be done."