The UPA government is not just sitting on a record number of 123 pending bills in Parliament. Its efforts to temporarily bypass Parliament through the ordinance route to bring in its pet laws have hit roadblocks – on one occasion from within.
The government’s biggest embarrassment came when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi slammed the ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers as “complete nonsense”, forcing the government to hastily withdraw it.But many other laws have failed to take off and the President had to call for re-promulgations.
The need for re-promulgation arises when the government fails to pass the related bill replacing the ordinance in Parliament. For example, the ordinance to amend the Indian Medical Council Act has been brought in twice in the past three years.
An ordinance to readjust the representation of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in parliamentary and assembly constituencies has an even better record. It has been re-promulgated twice by President Pranab Mukherjee this year alone.
According to a study by the PRS Legislative Research institute in 2013, there was a sharp rise in the number of ordinances cleared by the UPA government. This year the government has already brought in 11.
Interestingly, last year, when Parliament sessions faced a series of disruptions with the Opposition not allowing the Houses to function properly, the government went ahead with just one ordinance.
The current winter session of Parliament has three bills that seek to replace related ordinances. With barely 11 working days left in the session, the Opposition may not allow the government to pass these bills, providing another setback for UPA managers ahead of the general elections next year.
“Clearly, this government is trying to avoid Parliament and debates. They are trying to establish the supremacy of the executive over Parliament and this is in total violation of parliamentary norms,” veteran CPI MP Gurudas Dasgupta told HT.
Last July, the corridors of power were abuzz with rumours that President Mukherjee had expressed unhappiness in close quarters about the UPA cabinet having cleared an ordinance on the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) when the dates for the monsoon session of Parliament had already been notified. The cabinet had cleared two ordinances— on food security and SEBI—ahead of that session.
The food security ordinance came under several rounds of discussions within the Congress, with a large number of leaders expressing reservations about bringing the most important and far-reaching legislation through an ordinance. Top Congress sources admitted that after bringing the ordinance, party managers had to burn the midnight oil to convince the Opposition not to oppose the bill that aims to provide heavily subsidised foodgrains to 65% Indians.
Justifying the ordinance route for the food bill, parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath had said, “This bill would benefit 65% of the population of this country (but) the BJP never let it happen. We should not delay it even by a day and the constitutional provision of an ordinance is there.”
UPA sources argued that the ruling dispensation had to resort to the ordinance route on several occasions. “We are hamstrung in the Rajya Sabha as we have been in a minority in the Upper House for nearly three years. Besides, the relentless disruptions by the Opposition have closed other options,” said a UPA source.