Govt aims to pass pension, insurance bills in parliament

NEW DELHI Tue Nov 20, 2012 7:20pm IST

The parliament building is pictured behind marigold flowers in New Delhi November 22, 2011. REUTERS/B Mathur/Files

The parliament building is pictured behind marigold flowers in New Delhi November 22, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/B Mathur/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The government aims to pass bills opening up the insurance and pension sectors to foreign investors in the upcoming winter session of parliament, a minister said on Tuesday, the next step in a reform programme seen as key to reviving economic growth.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath, addressing a news conference, said the government would give top priority to a package of financial bills in the month-long session that starts on Thursday.

Two of the bills, which would allow up to 49 percent foreign ownership of insurance companies and pension funds, have long been sought by investors. Foreign investors are now barred from buying into pensions, and the cap for insurers is at 26 percent.

Such reforms have been fiercely resisted by opposition parties and members of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's own coalition and criticised as helping foreign firms at the expense of Indian companies and ordinary people.

The government also aims to pass a bill that paves the way for the Reserve Bank of India to issue new banking licences, as well as increase its regulatory powers over Indian banks.

However, Singh's minority coalition is expected to struggle to pass many, if any, of the 25 bills it wants to clear parliament in this session.

Recent sessions have suffered frequent shutdowns and walkouts by lawmakers protesting against a slew of issues including reforms, inflation and corruption scandals, meaning that scant legislation has been passed. A row over a decision taken in September to allow foreign supermarkets such as Wal-Mart (WMT.N) set up shop threatens to stall business once again.

(Reporting by Nigam Prusty; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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