Today wasn’t an ordinary day. Well, it was pretty much like any other day but what made it different was that I woke up to the news that our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi has promised to repeal the three Farm Laws in the upcoming Parliamentary session, more than a year after they had been introduced. This decision, though is very sudden, also raises hopes to end the stalemate between the Government and the Farm Unions.
Basically, a Law refers to a bill that has been passed by both Houses of the Parliament and gets the assent of the President as well. An Ordinance, on the other hand, is a temporary law that can be promulgated by the President of India “to deal with situations where an emergency in the country necessitated urgent action.” Article 123 of the Constitution of India bestows this power upon the President in case either House of the Parliament is not in session.
One major thing to look at here, though, is that such prominent laws(The Farm Laws) were passed not through a Parliamentary session, but via an ordinance formulated by the President, in September 2020. The reason given for the same was that the Parliament couldn’t convene because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But what shouldn’t have been overlooked was the importance of such laws which have widespread and significant impact on the majority of the population, especially where agriculture holds prime importance. The hue and cry was due to the fact that farm unions felt that their viewpoints were not taken into account while the laws were made, even though they directly impacted them. More importantly, Indian democracy is framed around the ideals of representation. Thus, this had led to a tense scenario throughout the nation and caused inconvenience to almost every section of the society, especially the farmers, who constitute the bedrock of our economy. The talking point here is the not the farm laws alone but the issuing of frequent ordinances of late some of which are highlighted below:
Just weeks before the Winter Session of the Parliament, scheduled to begin from the 29th of November, 2021, the Government promulgated two ordinances which would allow the Directors of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to have a 5-year tenure, instead of the previously fixed 2-year one. Immediately, as expected, we saw a lot of backlash with some leaders of Opposition accusing the Government of undertaking this so as to escape the scrutiny in the Parliament. One of the major reasons for people not supporting the move was that it was brought about just days before the present ED chief, Sanjay Kumar Mishra, was to retire(17th November,2021), especially in the backdrop of the recent Supreme Court decision to not provide him any further extension.
However, the decision might not be all that bad if we consider the fact that only 5-10% of cases registered by the CBI involve politicians in any manner (as has been brought out by R.K. Raghavan, former CBI Director, through a recent article in The Hindu).
Just to understand why ordinances should be an exception rather than a routine and whether that is the case, I went through some statistics. During UPA’s 10 year tenure(2004-2014), a total of 61 ordinances were passed. From 2014-2021, however, we saw a spike in the number, with a total of 79 ordinances in 7 years. That is an average of 3.7 ordinances for every 10 bills !
A healthy discussion in the Parliament is essential for an effective democracy. An astonishing fact that I got to know was that the “misuse” of this special power has not been uncommon throughout the nation’s history. We know that our Constitution came into effect on 26th January, 1950. Three ordinances were promulgated on the very same day, out of 14 passed within the same month, i.e. January 1950! The so-called misuse can be resorted to in situations when the Government is not in majority. For instance, with the tenure of the P.V. Narasimha Rao government, when the era of minority government began, the 1990s witnessed the most number of ordinances, i.e. 77 in 5 years!
It is also interesting to note that most of the democratic countries in the world do not actually have a provision to pass laws without a proper parliamentary discussion. This surely opens room for thought. Some system of checks and balances is necessary to ensure that the ordinance being passed is absolutely required or not.