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Updated: March 3, 2014 00:21 IST

When Parliament fails to act

    Aruna Roy
    Nikhil Dey
Comment (11)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
By not passing the Grievance Redressal law for example, every Indian citizen
will continue to be frustrated by an unaccountable delivery system. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen
The Hindu By not passing the Grievance Redressal law for example, every Indian citizen will continue to be frustrated by an unaccountable delivery system. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen

As the people of India have been faced with a Parliament that has been deliberately non-functioning, they have no choice left but to demand that the President promulgate ordinances to bring in laws on which there was a clear consensus

The demand for ordinances to be promulgated on consensus legislations such as the Grievance Redressal Bill, has to be seen in the context of the failure of the 15th Lok Sabha to function. In the midst of statements from some Opposition parties that the government should not promulgate ordinances, there is a persistent demand from some people’s movements and campaigns that consensus legislations should be promulgated as ordinances. One of the major reasons for using the ordinance provision of the Constitution with caution is to make sure the government does not use it to impose a law that Parliament may have disapproved of. The ordinance as a short route has therefore often been criticised, even by us for bypassing Parliament. In this case it does not. On the contrary, it takes already deliberated and examined Bills on which a consensus has been reached, but is marred by Parliament’s failure to legislate.

Lapsed Bills as betrayal

There are no absolutes in procedure, so long as they do not violate laws, and the Constitution. According to the rule book, Bills pending that were initiated in the Lok Sabha have lapsed. The cost of the loss to human effort, money, and time especially in cases where there is broad agreement on the laws, is colossal. The passage of these laws would on the one hand have benefitted everyone, including the most marginalised, and on the other not wasted the efforts of parliamentary process: endless presentations in front of standing committees and hours spent on formulating and drafting and redrafting them.

The provision of Article 123 of the Constitution states that ordinances can be passed when Parliament is not in session and “circumstances exist which render it necessary for him (the President) to take immediate action.” We believe that when the people of India have been faced with a Parliament that has been deliberately non-functioning, they have no choice left but to demand that the government and President use these provisions to bring in laws on which there was a clear consensus. This demand is made in a context where Parliament has barely functioned for five years and met in its last special session essentially to adjourn. The contentious Telangana Bill, and a few other important Bills were passed with great difficulty; 68 Bills lapsed with the proroguing of the parliamentary session. The demand for ordinances is limited only to a few Bills. A coalition of citizens groups actually implored Parliament to at least pass those in which there was agreement. By not passing the Grievance Redressal law for example, every Indian citizen will continue to be frustrated by an unaccountable delivery system with no redress or recourse. Many of these concern life and livelihood issues such as food, water, health, education, etc.

Not by choice

Interestingly, within this Parliament and outside, the Grievance Redressal law had the greatest support. It went through every process of consultation including full discussion in the Standing Committee which unanimously and strongly recommended immediate passage. All of Parliament included this as a part of the sense of the house resolution — a solemn assurance from Parliament that along with the Lokpal, a Citizen’s Charter and Grievance Redressal Bill would be passed with urgency. Continual pressure then led to passage of the Lokpal Act. Members across parties called upon the government to pass both the Whistleblower’s Protection Bill and Grievance Redressal law without which they pointed out that the passage of the Lokpal would be incomplete. Not passing these consensus Bills amounts to a betrayal of the people.

Parliament carries a solemn responsibility to carry out its mandate of making laws that are needed. The demand from the coalition was for a full-fledged legislation; not an ordinance. Seeking recourse to the exceptional route of the ordinance is not by choice.

Not a permanent fiat

Why did Parliament fail to pass these laws? All through this last session, going from one party to the next, leaders expressed support and agreed that there was a pressing need for passage, while they blamed other parties for not cooperating. There was a definite sense that petty politics and political one-upmanship were holding the immediate legislative needs of the people to ransom. Day after day, with the clock ticking, the desperation of citizens’ groups mounted as it seemed clear that assurances outside, and behaviour on the floor of the house did not match. Years of work, discussion on every point — within and outside Parliament — Bills going back and forth between Parliament and the Government were all going to be lost. As a country, we were facing a completely unjustifiable legislative vacuum. In the last week of the final session of Parliament, the “coalition for passage of consensus laws” began to demand ordinances in the event that Parliament failed to carry out its promise.

Article 123 must be seen as a recourse open to people just as much as it is open to the government of the day. Therefore, to project this only in political terms as we approach an election is unfair to the justified demands of people waiting for legal recourse. Not passing a law in a matter like Grievance Redress is a huge loss to uncountable citizens, many lives and an entire generation.

While making this demand for an ordinance, one must also recognise that it is not a permanent executive fiat. In fact, even more than in a case of an executive decision which the government of the day is free to continue with or change, an ordinance is necessarily subject to parliamentary approval. If ordinances are promulgated, when the 16th Lok Sabha reconvenes, it will immediately have to examine them and ensure that the law is enacted or amended as per laid down parliamentary process. By promulgating an ordinance now, citizens could begin to use the provisions to access their entitlements, seek redress, and even point out possible shortcomings that the law might have. Those shortcomings could be removed by the 16th Lok Sabha.

The President has expressed anguish at the non-functioning of Parliament. Unfortunately, Parliament paid no heed to the appeal from him or anyone else. The President now has an opportunity to send a clear message that if Parliament fails to legislate, people will demand their right to legal remedies. It is now incumbent on the government and the President to meet that demand.

Passing an ordinance in this case does not subvert the parliamentary process. In an incremental process of building law and subordinate legislation, this would only be one tentative step forward. For the citizens’ right to the redress of their grievances, not having the ordinance would be six steps backwards.

Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey are social activists

arunaroy@gmail.com

nikhildey@gmail.com

More In: Comment | Opinion

Parliament usually resort to Ordinances in exigent situation and can not be made as a practice. This reveals the weakness of the parliamentarians and will subvert the parliamentary process.Many important issues/bills are not getting its desired importance and are not widely and effectively discussed and debated in the floor. This practice should be stopped and the situation should be drastically improved.

from:  Soman Poothicote Thazhchayil
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 17:17 IST

The write up of the author is very correct. When majority of the
representatives of Parliament has agreed to certain Bills but could not
find its way out for use. Ordinance is the Right way to provide power to
the people in a Democracy. The Bills like Citizen's Charter, Grievance
Redressal, Whistle Blower Bill are some which needs to be passed by
Ordinance.

from:  Arun Banerjee
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 16:27 IST

I fully agree with the authors' point of view. If the Legislature does not work then the Executive will have to legislate through ordinance.

from:  Sanjay
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 16:17 IST

I agree with the author, If standing committee and all parties had
agreed on certain bills, it should be passed without discussion.
Nevertheless, If there any constitutional offerings to govern these
types of missed out bills other than Ordinance which had its way due
to hurling of any bills by the opposition drought in bringing in
popular bills that has immense tangibility in the vote banks, the
Nutritional food security. Nevertheless, we had left it to the next
functioning Government.
However, why each of the departments develop internal acts and rules
that can give accountability in the finance ,accounting, human
resources with computer aided standard procedures which are integral
part of the feedback systems. For example: Sarbanes-Oxley Act,
internal auditing of accounts compatible with GAAP.
Admittedly, the scope of auditing should be furthered into as many
areas that has some relations with its operations. For example:
Regulatory board workflows & operations utilization audit

from:  Palak
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 15:38 IST

Most of the Bills related to the Lokpal / Anti corruption Legislations,
the disability Bill etc. could not be passed because any MP had
objections on the aims and contents of these Bills but the Parliament
was non-functional due to uproar and unruly behaviour of the MPs on
various issues agitating them. Hence taking the Ordinance route under
Article 123 of the Constitution cannot be called as undemocratic. But
the tragedy in an atmosphere of election is that unfortunately decisions
of Govt. would be judged less of reasoning and more of politics.

from:  C.K.Saseendran
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 15:28 IST

Most of the Bills related to the Lokpal / Anti corruption Legislations,
the disability Bill etc. could not be passed because any MP had
objections on the aims and contents of these Bills but the Parliament
was non-functional due to uproar and unruly behaviour of the MPs on
various issues agitating them. Hence taking the Ordinance route under
Article 123 of the Constitution cannot be called as undemocratic. But
the tragedy in an atmosphere of election is that unfortunately decisions
of Govt. would be judged less of reasoning and more of politics.

from:  ck saseendran
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 15:26 IST

It is necessary to bring certain bills passed through ordinance. As the Opposition parties did not allow to function the Parliament, this route is essential. Even Communist Party has not cooperate in enacting some useful bills.
Next time People of India should bring a Single National Party to Power with atleast 270 seats. So that the party that comes to power need not depend on Opposition to introduce a Bill.

from:  Udayashankar
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 13:47 IST

Parl has failed. Therefore the Government has the right to recommend
certain bills to the President and the President shall give his assent.
This kind of bills becoming law will be a lessons for the future act of
our MPs. The Speaker should have exercised heavy control over the unruly
MPs and if any comes to the well of the house he should sent out
permanently. He should not have the right to contest elections.

from:  S.Nedunchezhian
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 12:25 IST

It is very true that it will be the Indian poor who will suffer mostly
when the ordinances for grievance redress are not issued. But, a very
serious question remains unanswered: Why no one cared at least during
the last 10 years of the UPA government? There should be some regulation
to stipulate that the Indian parliament should function uninterrupted
for a specific period during each session. If NONSENSE is not penalized,
at least it should not paid from peoples taxes!

from:  Abraham Karammel
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 11:06 IST

Thank you Ms Roy and Mr Dey for weighing in: "Members across parties
called upon the government to pass both the Whistleblower’s Protection
Bill and Grievance Redressal law without which they pointed out that
the passage of the Lokpal [many contend it is weak and ineffective -
my addition]would be incomplete. Not passing these consensus Bills
amounts to a betrayal of the people."

It will be a good gift to the nation if Congress enacts the above
anti-corruption measures via the ordinance route, otherwise BJP (if it
comes to power) may delay them and the hapless citizens will lose out!

"Passing an ordinance in this case does not subvert the parliamentary
process. In an incremental process of building law and subordinate
legislation, this would only be one tentative step forward." If BJP
and CPI(M) challenge them in the courts, so be it. Congress would have
batted for the people!

The citizens of India have suffered enough and for too long. Will the
President help the citizens?

from:  D Mahapatra
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 07:07 IST

Even if the ordinances are passed. there is no certainty that they will be approved by the next parliament. Except for a smooth transfer of power, democracy has failed in India largely because elected representatives seldom meet their constituency in town hall type meetings, and through the local media. Till the next election comes. there is virtually no contact. They obey like rams what a few in their party high command decide. Even after 60 years of independence , India is not ready for this type of parliamentary system. For a more responsive government, the center should be in charge of defence,foreign affairs, and finance only and the rest with a large number of territorial units. The smaller the administrative unit there will be more response and caring.

from:  L.K.Balasubramanian
Posted on: Mar 3, 2014 at 06:46 IST
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