Ordinance Raj

Updated: Aug 31 2004, 05:30am hrs
Union finance minister P Chidambaram has threatened to resort to the ordinance route to put in place essential legislation in case Parliament is not able to pass the necessary bills.

Speaking to bank chiefs in Mumbai on Friday, he pointed out that the country needs to pass about half a dozen pieces of legislation to deal with its obligations under the WTO and Basle II agreements.

And that if the stalemate in Parliament continued, the government would have no option but to issue ordinances. That would be most unfortunate. The ordinance route must be the exception rather than the rule.

True, successive governments have misused this provision in the Constitution as the NDA government did with the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance in 2001. But that is no justification for the UPA government to do likewise.

Indeed, large-scale resort to ordinances is the very negation of parliamentary democracy. If laws can be passed without being debated and discussed, we must ask ourselves whether we need to continue with the charade that carries on in the name of Parliament

Remember each day that Parliament meets costs the exchequer Rs 1 crore. Thats valuable taxpayer money being spent supposedly to ensure that no legislation is passed without being debated. But if it is not serving its purpose, it is time we did something about it.

At the very least, the public needs to make its displeasure known. There can be only one justification for issuing an ordinance rather than legislating.

This is when the Cabinet feels there is an extraordinary situation necessitating the use of powers under the Legislative Power of the President of Article 123 of the Constitution.

And it has the support of Parliament both for the promulgation of the ordinance and the passage of the bill that is required to replace it.

Neither of these apply in the present situation. The UPA government is contemplating issuing ordinances only because of the Oppositions obduracy.

At a time when a number of crucial pieces of legislation are pending, such mulishness is unpardonable. The country pays a huge price for continuing with out-dated legislation. But our parliamentarians seem oblivious to that.

Apart from domestic legislation, there are a number of international obligations that we need to fulfill as in the case of the amendment to patent laws, for instance.

However, if Opposition MPs continue to disrupt parliamentary proceedings, the government would be in danger of not being able to honour its international commitments. Can we plead for a modicum of sense from our honourable MPs