Narendra Modi took oath as India’s Prime Minister (PM) on 26th May, 2014. Two days later, the Modi government passed an ordinance in its first cabinet meeting.
An ordinance is as good as a law, the only difference being that a law is passed by the Parliament while an ordinance is passed by the government and later signed by the President. Generally, all issues which require a law to be passed are introduced in Parliament. But there are certain times when a law needs to be amended (changed) or created when the Parliament is not in session. It is here that the government of the day can pass an ordinance. Once the Parliament is in session, the ordinance has to be approved by both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha within six weeks otherwise the temporary law (as an ordinance is often called) will cease to exist.
Now, the ordinance that the Modi cabinet passed was to bring an amendment to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act, 1997. The need to pass this ordinance arose because Narendra Modi had selected Nripendra Misra as his principal secretary. A principal secretary is the bureaucratic head of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). But the problem was that Mr. Misra was formerly the Chairman of TRAI and according to the TRAI Act of 1997, a person who has been a Chairman of the TRAI would be ineligible for further employment under the Central Government. So, Modi’s choice for the top bureaucratic post in the country could be questioned in a court of law. Thus, the central government passed the ordinance to bring an amendment in the said Act, whereby a person who has been the Chairman of TRAI could be appointed under the central government, but after two years of his demitting office as chairman. This paved the way for Mr. Misra’s appointment as he was TRAI chairman from 2006 to 2009, meaning that five years had passed after his resignation.
But the ordinance has again come into the headlines because now the Parliament is in session. So the government has to pass the TRAI amendment bill within six weeks for the ordinance to remain a law and for Mr. Misra’s appointment to stay legal. The government has already tabled the bill in the Lok Sabha. Certain parties in the opposition, like the Indian National Congress (INC) and the All-India-Trinamool-Congress (AITC) are opposing this move of the government.
“Our concern is that of principles. We are not against any person. When TRAI was made, the rule was that its chairman should not be given any other work. It should not be violated,” said Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government was within its rights to bring any law in the telecom regulatory authority. “We are pushing this bill based upon clear merits. We are quite confident that we will pass it in both the houses,” Mr. Prasad said. The government says the law needs to be changed as TRAI is the only authority which bars its chairpersons from taking up any official assignment. (Source: NDTV)
However, the government has no cause to worry regarding the bill’s passage in the Lok Sabha as it has absolute majority in the lower house. The Lok Sabha has 545 seats. The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 336 seats, with the BJP alone controlling 282 seats. The amendment bill needs a simple majority and can be easily passed in the Lok Sabha. The problem exists in the Rajya Sabha, where the INC is the single largest party with 68 seats in a total of 245 seats. The NDA has 58 seats at present. The regional parties (like the AITC and Jayalalithaa AIADMK and Naveen Patnaik’s BJD) control 86 seats among themselves and the rest are either independent or nominated members. It is these 86 seats that will become crucial if there is voting in the Rajya Sabha on the bill. Modi will need a simple majority of the members present and voting to pass this bill. It will be interesting to see which way the parties go. It is not necessary for them to vote with the government or against them. They can even walk out or abstain, which will bring the number of members present and voting down, bringing the majority mark down too, thus helping the government. That seems the most likely scenario now, considering Modi has made up his mind regarding his choice for the post of his Principal Secretary.