President Pranab Mukherjee’s reluctance to support its ordinance route forced the cabinet on Sunday to drop its plan to sidestep Parliament to enact anti-corruption laws being pushed by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
The cabinet, which held a special meeting on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Myanmar visit, however, decided to include the Jat community in the Other Backward Castes (OBC) category for reservation in government jobs and higher education. With a significant presence in western Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Jats can influence poll outcome in some constituencies.
Gandhi had put his weight behind six legislations including bringing the private sector under corruption laws, setting deadlines for government to provide services to people and protecting whistleblowers. But the President refused to play ball.
As a last-ditch effort to get his nod, law minister Kapil Sibal and home minister Sushilkumar Shinde called on Mukherjee hours before the meeting with a trimmed list of ordinances.
This was their second meeting in as many days but Mukherjee did not relent. He had raised several issues including the urgency for bringing in an ordinance. Article 123 of the Constitution requires that the urgency be clearly stated for taking the ordinance route. An ordinance allows laws to be enacted when Parliament is not in session, though it needs to be ratified by both the Houses within six months.
The President, who also received CPM general secretary Prakash Karat's letter earlier in the day urging him not to allow ordinances, felt the laws should be enacted only after a thorough discussion in Parliament.
With the Election Commission expected to announce the Lok Sabha poll schedule during the week, the model code of conduct will kick in. The fate of these bills, pending in various stages in Parliament, will be decided by the new government.
"There was a discussion. And, it was felt these (the laws) are extremely important in national life and need full deliberation by legislature," information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said after the meeting, putting up a brave face.
The minister, however, insisted the government's commitment towards the bills was "absolute and unimpeachable". "It is an article of faith for us. We will continue to pursue and ensure these legislations translate into reality," he said.
The cabinet also accorded the 13 districts that will constitute Andhra Pradesh once Telangana is carved out a special category status by an executive directive, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh said. The move will ensure preferential treatment in assistance from the Centre and tax breaks for five years.
The cabinet took the ordinance route to tweak Telangana and Andhra boundaries around Bhadrachalam town to ease rehabilitation of people displaced by the proposed Polavaram irrigation project. An ordinance strengthening the SC/STs atrocities law was also cleared.
On earlier occasions, too, Mukherjee had not been comfortable with the government taking the ordinance route. Though he had allowed the food security ordinance, he put his foot down when a similar move was made to protect convicted lawmakers from losing their seats.