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Govt faces big test in Rajya Sabha

Govt faces big test in Rajya Sabha
The BJP-led government faces a big test in the Budget session of Parliament. It needs to replace six ordinances with legislations that include one on land acquisition. Unfortunately for the present dispensation, the ordinance on land acquisition has already created ripples within political circles. The government failed to pass the big ticket Insurance and Coal ordinances through the Rajya Sabha in the earlier session due to a united opposition. The fall out of the BJP’s humiliating defeat at the hands of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi could also reverberate in the Budget Session.

There is no chance of the BJP emerging as the single largest party in the Rajya Sabha before 2018, which is six months before the next general elections. For the BJP to achieve a majority in the upper house, it needs to perform the remarkable feat of winning biennial elections in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and Tamil Nadu. With its current strength of 48 in the 245-member house, the saffron party will struggle to get legislations passed.

The Congress, with its present strength of 68, is the largest party in the upper house, followed by Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal, Trinamool Congress and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. None of them are favourably inclined towards the BJP. The opposition may cooperate in clearing minor ordinances like Motor Vehicles (amendment) Bill, which seeks to allow battery operated vehicles to ply in Delhi and the National Capital Region. Acquiring ratification for the land acquisition and insurance ordinances, however, will not be possible unless opposition parties agree.

The current ordinance seeks to replace the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. The government could push a fresh bill to amend the Insurance Act and replace a related ordinance, after withdrawing the previous legislation from the Rajya Sabha. The opposition is opposed to the coal block allotment ordinance that was re-promulgated. Issuance of eight ordinances in less than nine months of the BJP-led government’s rule has led to questions surrounding its motivations in using ordinances as a default device for law making. President Mukherjee has already asked the government to refrain from promulgating ordinances.     

Links between ordinances and disruption in Parliament in recent years has been apparent. If we analyse data from the last five years, Parliament logged its lowest numbers of working hours from January 2013 to March 2014. In this period, 14 ordinances were passed, which is more than the total amount passed in previous sessions from 2009. This is not surprising, since the government demands continuous action. If proceedings in the Parliament are obstructed, then the ordinance route will be increasingly used.  

The only course open for the government to get these ordinances ratified is to convene a joint session of both houses. The procedure for this, however, is cumbersome. A pre-condition for a joint session is that a bill, along with a statement of reasons for promulgating the ordinance, should have first been defeated in one of the Houses.

Article 108 of the Constitution cites the three grounds for the President to notify a joint session. As per the provisions of Article 108, a joint sitting of both Houses can be called if a bill has been passed by one House and rejected by the other; if the two Houses have finally disagreed on the amendments to be made in the bill; or if more than six months have elapsed after a bill is passed by one House but is not passed by the other. Since 1952 laws have been passed on only four occasions through a joint session. President Pranab Mukherjee is of opinion that a joint session of Parliament was not a “practicable solution” to resolve an impasse in our legislative process.

Of the eight ordinances, which would have to be cleared in the Budget Session, two —Insurance and Land Acquisition legislations — would be the most contentious. In December last year, the government issued three crucial ordinances to change the Land Acquisition Act, increasing FDI in insurance to 49 per cent and facilitating auction of coal mines.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Ordinance relaxes the condition of one-year continuous stay in India before applying for Indian citizenship and allows a minor child born to Indian citizens to be registered as an overseas citizen of India (OCI). Another ordinance is for regularisation of e-rickshaws in Delhi.

Article 123 of the Constitution allows the government to recommend the President to pass an ordinance, in case Parliament is not in session. The opposition has said it will not be the rubber stamp of the government. These ordinances must be validated in the Budge Session or else they will lapse.

Harihar Swarup

Harihar Swarup

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