Anti-graft bill has lapsed, and that's perfectly OK

Waking up at the 11th hour and taking the ordinance route would have further damaged democracy

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Ashish Mehta | March 4, 2014



The UPA government has become overactive in its last few days of authority. It wants to clear all pending governance agenda of a decade within a matter of a week or so. The cabinet cleared as many as 30 decisions in a single meeting in February-end. It was in this frenzy to deliver that the government wanted to push through a set of legislations through the ordinance route.

The government, however, was forced to drop the idea when it realised that the president would not take it kindly.

The legislations were certainly important – they included the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, the Right of Citizens for Time-Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of Grievances Bill, the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) (Amendment) Bill and the Rights of the Persons with Disability Bill. Some of these, the anti-corruption ones, were labeled ‘Rahul bills’, with an eye to win a bit of popularity for the Congress party’s purported prime ministerial candidate ahead of the elections. Now 68 bills including these have lapsed, and it will be up to the next Lok Sabha to take them up again (or not).
The ordinance route could have been justified by blaming parliament. This Lok Sabha has broken records when it comes to underperforming, and whole sessions have gone by without conducting any business. (The opposition would justify it by blaming the government for an unprecedented series of scams and bungling, but that would be a different story.)

Two eminent civil-society activists, Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, favoured the ordinance route, basing their argument on this justification. In a joint article in The Hindu [‘When parliament fails to act’], they noted, “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.”

They contended that the clutch of legislations would have benefitted all, especially those from the marginalised class, harmed none, and Article 123 of the constitution provides promulgation of an ordinance under precisely such a scenario. “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,” they wrote.

However, the president didn’t seem to have this people-centric interpretation of Article 123 in mind when law minister Kapil Sibal and home minister Sukhilkumar Shinde met him on March 1. It bypasses the institution of parliament, which is constitutionally speaking represents people’s will.

The larger point here is the tendency of the government to ignore an “underperforming” parliament and go for the ordinance mode to get its way. Last year, the food security law made its appearance taking that route. [For more, read ‘Food security on table but is ordinance sign of democratic failure?’] Also, projecting the outcomes of the ordinances “only in political terms” might be unfair, but that is how it was going to be projected by the Congress – and perceived by the voters. Moreover, if the ordinances were issued, it would not have been up to the current Lok Sabha to pass them because it is not going to reassemble now.

Yes, much common good would have accrued if the anti-graft bills were promulgated in the form of ordinances. Much more common good would have accrued if the UPA government had paid attention to governance during a decade.

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