NEW DELHI: The Lok Sabha Monday passed a bill to amend the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act which will pave the way for appointment of former TRAI chairman Nripendra Misra as principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The bill replaces an ordinance brought by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, to amend the act which prohibited its chairman and members from taking up any other job in the central or state governments after demitting office.
Misra is a 1967-batch retired IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre and his appointment as principal secretary will be co-terminus with the term of the prime minister or till further orders, according to an order issued by the ministry of personnel.
The bill was passed amid a walkout by members of the Congress, CPI-M and Aam Admi Party (AAP).
Before the bill was taken up for discussion, Congress's Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury moved a statutory resolution seeking disapproval of the house on the bill, which was defeated.
Moving the resolution, Chowdhury said: "We have no personal agenda in this. But the fact is that the government is not letting the legislature prevail. This is worrisome."
"The ordinance was conceptualized and passed at a lightning speed smacking of a hidden agenda," he said.
However, the Trinamool Congress, which had opposed the bill earlier, in a surprise turnaround, supported it on the floor of the house.
In fact, the Lok Sabha schedule had Trinamool MP Saugata Roy's name listed alongside Chowdhury's for moving the statutory resolution. However, Roy was conspicuous by his absence when the resolution was moved.
Later participating in the discussion, TMC member Sudip Bandopadhyay said: "We support the bill. The prime minister can choose any officer whom he thinks fit."
The ruling BJP, on its part, defended the bill arguing that the government was just correcting an anomaly in the TRAI Act.
BJP's Rajiv Pratap Rudy said: "Why is this being opposed? There are other bodies like the competition commission of India and the pension regulatory authority whose members can join the government after two years."
"The government has a right to correct this anomaly and this is the basic intent," he said, adding: "If the prime minister feels that certain person needs to work with him, then this anomaly needs to be corrected".
Replying to the debate, Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: "The anomaly was that a TRAI chairman can work under any commercial company but not the government. This was a palpable anomaly."
He asserted: "This is an attempt to bring parity. No one questioned the integrity of the officer in question."
However, Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of the Congress group in the house, alleged that there was something more to this than meets the eye.
"Why did you want only a particular person," he asked. The Congress MPs, at this point, staged a walkout and were joined by the members of the CPI-M and the AAP. The house then passed the bill by a voice vote.