Within hours of assuming office, the BJP-led NDA government issued an ordinance to ensure the appointment of former chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Nripendra Misra as Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The decision to take the ordinance route was taken at the first meeting of the Modi-led Cabinet yesterday.
As first reported in The Indian Express Wednesday, Misra’s appointment as PS to PM was in violation of Section 5 (8) of the TRAI Act, 1997, which barred any post-retirement government job for (the) “chairperson or any other member ceasing to hold office”.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, amends this section to allow a former chairperson (in this case, Misra) or member to take up any government job — either at the Centre or in any state — after a cooling-off period of two years. Not just this, these persons have now also been allowed to accept “any appointment in any company in the business of telecommunication service” two years after demitting office.
Sources in Rashtrapati Bhawan said that the assent of President Pranab Mukherjee for promulgation of the ordinance — Article 123 empowers the President to promulgate ordinance when Parliament is in recess — was secured this afternoon and Misra’s appointment was announced by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) this evening.
Speaking to The Indian Express before the ordinance was issued, former Finance Minister P Chidambaram had said: “Mr Nripendra Misra is a fine officer and gentleman, but he has got into a legal tangle. As the law stands, he is ineligible for being appointed to any post under the central government or any state government”.
Today’s step, legal experts say, could be the first instance where a government at the Centre promulgates an ordinance even before proving its majority on the floor of the House, which, incidentally, is a mere formality for the Modi government, with the BJP itself having a simple majority in the Lok Sabha.
As Opposition, the BJP was a consistent critic of the UPA government’s hush-hush decisions to take the ordinance routes — it brought as many as 12 ordinances in its last year in office.
Misra, a UP-cadre IAS officer of the 1967 batch, was chairman of TRAI from March 2006 to 2009. Incidentally, in August 2006, Misra, then TRAI chairperson, had himself written to the Ministry of Communications, terming Section 5 (8) “unreasonable” and seeking its amendment. He had argued that such a restriction did not apply to the chairperson and members of the Competition Commission and of SEBI, who were eligible for future employment in central and state government agencies, and local and statutory authorities.
Curiously, in the version of the TRAI Act, 1997, on the website of the telecom regulator, the words “shall be ineligible” in the operative portion are substituted with “shall be eligible.” Moreover, in the website version, this clause figures as Section 5 (h), not Section 5 (8) as in the version available on india.gov.in, the “National Portal of India.”
A former Law Ministry officer, who had played a part in drafting the TRAI Act in 1997, said that the confusion with regard to usage of “eligible” instead of “ineligible” was the result of a typographical error.