The Narendra Modi-led NDA government’s decision to take the ordinance route to circumvent the Parliamentary logjam by issuing seven ordinances within a fortnight of the end of the winter session was not without its share of drama.
Besides the fact that President Pranab Mukherjee asked the government to explain the urgency behind the ordinance amending the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, it now transpires that there were divisions within the Cabinet over the rationale behind so many ordinances.
At its meeting on December 29, when the Cabinet cleared a slew of ordinances, at least two senior ministers are learnt to have voiced their concern. They are said to have argued that the government risked “an image problem” by promulgating “too many” ordinances since that could effectively send the signal that the NDA government, like its predecessor Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, was unable to get key legislation passed in Parliament.
This was possibly the first Cabinet meeting in the current regime where a difference of opinion was so stark and openly voiced, forcing the Prime Minister to weigh in and over-rule the objections.
At least three senior ministers have confirmed to The Indian Express that there was a “heated discussion” over the lack of any pre-legislative discussion and prior consultation with states (about the proposed amendments) on the land acquisition ordinance. Incidentally, President Pranab Mukherjee had asked the NDA government to explain the urgency behind the ordinance.
Sources said at least two ministers voiced their concern over the possible fallout if the President returned any of the ordinances due to lack of clarity over urgency.
Another minister is learnt to have suggested that some of the “not-so important and urgent” ordinances could be kept pending and passed in the Budget Session of Parliament.
At the January 5 Cabinet meeting, once again one of the three Ministers raised similar concerns when the mines ordinance was cleared.
“It was evident that not all ministers were comfortable with the timing and number of ordinances. But the majority view, backed by the Prime Minister, was that the ordinances were required to send out a positive signal to investors that the government would not allow legislative logjam to stall reforms,” said a minister. “There was also the issue of the amendments being effected before December 31, 2014,” said a minister.
It is learnt that the e-rickshaw ordinance had to face questions as well. Apart from the fact that Delhi is poll-bound and the ordinance could yield electoral benefits to the BJP, what titled the scale in favour of the ordinance was Minister Nitin Gadkari’s pitch that it would result in “safeguarding” the livelihood of thousands of poor people.
KEY CONCERNS RAISED
At least three Ministers flagged:
*What if President sits on or returns an ordinance?
* Why states not consulted again on changes in land law?
* Not an effective way to get around Parliament logjam
* How strong is a reforms signal if it is only via ordinance?