Ever the canny politician, President Pranab Mukherjee made sure that his farewell address to the Members of Parliament would be remembered.
The outgoing president spoke on the contentious issue of ordinances, stating that in his opinion, they ought to be used in special circumstances.
Let us examine what ordinances are and how the Centre has used this power over the years.
What are ordinances?
They are temporary laws decreed by the president on the advice of the government under Article 123 of the Constitution. They are implemented in cases where "immediate action" is needed and the Parliament is not in session.
A list of the ordinances passed from 2003 onwards can be accessed here.
The first ordinance the Centre passed was to make way for Nripendra Misra as the Prime Minister's Principal Secretary. The move raised questions on the propriety of the government tinkering with a long-standing law to get a man of their choice into the high-profile position.
Misra was the head of TRAI from 2006 to 2009 and the TRAI Act, 1997 prohibited him from being in the employ of the Centre. An ordinance was used to override this provision.
Another controversial ordinance was the Uttarakhand Appropriation (Vote on Account) Ordinance, 2016 as the Budget Session of Parliament was specifically prorogued to allow the government to issue the ordinance. A bill to replace the ordinance was later passed by Parliament.
Early in his term, experts thought that Modi was sending the message that reforms will be pushed through even outside of the usual legislative mechanism.
Ashok Malik, a New Delhi-based political analyst and columnist was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying: “He is telling them ‘I am serious about these reforms. I am staking my political credibility on them, this was my agenda and I am working on it’ ”.
The report also aired the views of the policy's critics, as it quoted Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies as saying, “His message is he is doing this in the name of development. But the common man does not understand that you don’t need to bring out ordinances for such issues. Passing too many bills through ordinances erodes parliamentary process, where the merits and drawbacks of a bill are debated in Parliament."
One particular law which the government has tinkered with using the ordinance route is the Enemy Property Act, 1968 which was amended no less than five times in 2016.
NDA vs UPA, UPA-II
The Modi government hasn't shied away from using ordinances to push through policy. In 2016, it enacted 10 ordinances. In 2015, it passed nine ordinances. In fact, since it took office on 26 May, 2014, it has promulgated 30 ordinances. Since it took power, it has averaged 10 ordinances a year.
The NDA government's record compares unfavourably to both UPA-I and UPA-II regimes, which averaged seven and five ordinances a year respectively.
Cause for concern?
Ordinances need to be treated cautiously as they are an extra-ordinary power. They are not a way to bypass Parliament, but are to be used only in dire need. While the uptick in the number of ordinances by the government is not alarming, however, the pattern may be cause for concern, especially in the case of Uttarakhand, where the government sees it as just another tool in its kit. However, the overuse of such a power should be discouraged as it would be detrimental to the balance of power between the legislature and the executive.
Updated Date: Jul 24, 2017 13:59 PM