Another tussle on the cards over ordinances

The Hindu, February 19, 2015

Faced with the unenviable task of persuading recalcitrant Opposition leaders to help the government convert six ordinances into Acts of Parliament, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu has called an all-party meeting on Sunday. This will be followed by a dinner hosted by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to drive home the same message.

Time is of the essence as the ordinances must be converted into law in the first half of the session ending March 20 as they have to be passed within six weeks of the opening of the session on February 23. The second half commences only on April 20, well after the expiry of the mandatory period.

Meanwhile, the Ministries concerned gave notices for introduction of Bills for replacement of ordinances on Tuesday, even as Opposition parties submitted notices opposing their introduction, CPI leader and Rajya Sabha MP D. Raja told The Hindu.

This sets the stage for another confrontation between the government and the Opposition. But, oddly, in the wake of its humiliating defeat in the Delhi Assembly elections last week, the government?s parliamentary managers have yet to reach out to Opposition leaders, whose support they need in the Rajya Sabha. Nor have they sought to create public opinion in support of the ordinances by communicating to a wider public.

Till the Delhi results came in, both Mr. Naidu and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had been publicly explaining why the ordinances were important, and how they would advance the government?s reforms agenda. This was despite President Pranab Mukherjee last month cautioning the Modi government on its excessive use of ordinances, in the wake of strident Opposition criticism that this was an attempt to bypass Parliament and indeed, even some voices of dissent within the Union Cabinet.

Mr. Jaitley both privately ? at the January 20 meeting called by Mr. Naidu to discuss the budget session ? and publicly ? in Davos on January 23 ? had explained that all actions taken during the operation of the ordinances would be sustained, especially important in the context of the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Second Ordinance, 2014.

Mr. Naidu and Mr. Jaitley had also, from time to time, stressed that the government could call a joint session of Parliament to clear the Bills that are to replace the ordinances, provided they were passed in one house and rejected by the other.

Of the six ordinances, only the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014, that seeks to raise the FDI cap in the sector is with the Rajya Sabha. The others dealing with Coal, Land Acquisition, Mines and Minerals, Citizenship and Motor Vehicles, will be first introduced in the Lok Sabha. The government hopes to persuade the Congress to back the Insurance Bill to clear it in the Upper House, since it has a majority in the Lok Sabha. In the winter session, the Congress ? though fundamentally in agreement with the Bill ? joined forces with the rest of the opposition, saying it would consider passing it provided the House was in order.

Opposition sources said while the government could pass the Bills replacing the other five ordinances in the Lok Sabha, and then call a Joint Session after they were rejected by the Rajya Sabha, it would have to be done one at a time. ?The President has to call a joint session,? said CPI-M MP Sitaram Yechury, ?and I wonder after what he said last month whether he would be willing to call five joint sessions in quick succession.? The government has a hard time awaiting it in the budget session.

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