In a move that has triggered some disquiet in sections of the bureaucracy and raised questions of propriety and constitutionality, the UPA government is planning to promulgate at least nine ordinances next week, days before Lok Sabha elections are announced.
Showing unusual urgency and hoping to beat the imposition of the model code of conduct, four ministries, it is learnt, have sent requests to the legislative department of the Ministry of Law and Justice to draft the ordinances “by tomorrow” (Wednesday) so that they can be cleared by the cabinet when it meets Friday.
Government sources told The Indian Express that questions have been raised by senior government functionaries about the timing of the ordinances and the need for the urgency. The functionaries have also warned that the move could end up becoming controversial and land in court.
“Yes, we have been asked why this sudden rush? But there is nothing wrong in what we are planning to do because issuing ordinances is the right of the government in office,” a senior Ministry of Personnel official said, justifying the government’s move.
Constitutional experts said the ordinances will be the first big test for President Pranab Mukherjee as he will have to, before giving his assent, take into consideration the question of propriety and whether an outgoing government should issue such a large number of ordinances just before general elections.
The President is yet to receive the government’s request to prorogue Parliament and unless the Presidential notification about Parliament being prorogued is issued, no ordinance can be issued.
The ordinances being planned include those that will replace Bills pending in Parliament and which Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has been talking about as being necessary to fight corruption.
These include the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill and the Public Procurement Bill, 2012.
The law ministry has also been asked to re-draft three ordinances that were promulgated earlier but had lapsed.
These include the SEBI (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, which provides for greater power to the stock market regulator, the Indian Medical Council (Ordinance), 2013 and the Readjustment of Representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Parliamentary and Assembly Constituencies Ordinance, 2013.
A surprise inclusion to the list is one that could increase reservation for disabled persons in government jobs. Last week, rights activists had met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to seek support for this law.
Another ordinance that the law ministry has been asked to draft relates to the proposal to increase the financial jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 2 crore by amending the Delhi High Court Act, 1966 and the Punjab Courts Act, 1918.
The government also wants to amend the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
“This is unconstitutional,” said constitutional expert and senior lawyer Rajiv Dhawan.
“The term of the 15th Lok Sabha is ending and there is not going to be another session of this Lok Sabha. This government is committing a major hoax in the name of issuing ordinances but whose main purpose is purely political. Ordinances are brought when Parliament is not in session. How can the government, which is in office only till the 15th Lok Sabha is in place, issue any ordinance and set the legislative agenda of the next Parliament? This is absurd,” he said.
Former Lok Sabha secretary general Subhash C Kashyap too said the proposed ordinances would be against “constitutional propriety” and that he disagreed with the rationale behind the ordinances.
“Under Article 123, the constitution provides that when both houses are not in session and a situation arises which calls for urgent legislative action then the President may issue an ordinance. What is the urgency now?” he asked.
“Technically, Parliament is still in session as it has not been prorogued. Has the situation changed so much in the last one week or so to merit ordinances? It will be highly unethical and against constitutional propriety for this government to issue any ordinance now,” Kashyap said.