Are Bills coming through ordinance tenable?
Faced with stiff opposition and logjam in RajyaSabha over the issue of religious conversion, the Modi government has promulgated ordinances to push coal sector and insurance reforms. Under the order, foreign firms can increase their participation in insurance joint ventures from 26% to 49%. The other was re-promulgation of the Coal Ordinance to facilitate auctions of 204 blocks that were cancelled by the Supreme Court in September. The Centre plans to begin the auction and allocation of 101 coal blocks from February 2015.
The government’s move came after opposition parties did not allow a vote on the measures in the upper house of parliament during the last few days of the winter session, demanding that the government first rein in SanghParivar hardliners and their Hindutva agenda. But, the BJP government using executive decree to push key reform bills (in fact, insurance bill is already in the RajyaSabha) through back door has evoked sharp reaction from opposition parties and intelligentsia. If anything, the government’s move has revived the classic “executive versus legislature” debate. Questions are also being asked on the viability of the ordinance route in the long run.
That is because ordinances are temporary laws and can be issued by the President when Parliament is not in session based on the advice of the Union Cabinet. The purpose of ordinances is to allow governments to take immediate legislative action if circumstances make it necessary to do so at a time when Parliament is not in session.
Every ordinance has to be laid before Parliament, and ceases to exist six weeks from the end of the next sitting of Parliament. Since the Constitution mandates that Parliament be called into session at least once every six months, ordinances have a de facto expiration period of approximately seven and a half months. The fate of these two ordinances hangs in balance, as the ties between the government and opposition are unlikely to drastically improve by the next session of parliament in February.
At the same time, a majority in the RajyaSabha will elude the government and may not change before 2016. While the BJP government has not ruled out a joint session of the parliament to push its reforms agenda, it will still need to muster support from smaller regional parties like the AIADMK, BJD to get past the simple majority mark. Also, convening a joint session of parliament for every policy reform is untenable and may only increase the acrimony between the ruling and opposition alliances.
Until the ruling NDA alliance secures a majority in the parliament, it is likely that the government may seek ordinance route after each washed out legislative session in the RajyaSabha.
The increasing confrontation bodes ill for the future running of parliament. In a democracy the Treasury Benches and the opposition make up two halves of a single unit. An intransigent attitude from both sides will disrupt the normal functioning of the parliament, which, in fact, has been the case from last two to three years.
The role of the opposition is essentially complementary and not adversarial in a parliamentary democracy. The task of the opposition is to point out weaknesses and failures of the ruling party and the defects in its policies as part of the checks and balances system.
The government has a greater responsibility to seek the confidence of the opposition and indulge in healthy and constructive debates and discussions. That is why our founding fathers opted for a parliamentary democracy instead of presidential system of government.