|It holds the first parliamentary majority in India in three decades, but to pass legislation Narendra Modi’s government appears to be bypassing Parliament and taking the shorter, ordinance route.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Cabinet has pushed through eight pieces of temporary legislation — known as ordinances — since coming to power in May.
That’s more than one a month. Each must be rubber stamped by the President.
To be sure, Mr. Modi might be front-loading his reform agenda with this flurry of executive orders to get the legislative wheels in motion after the previous coalition government was accused of stalling the economy by failing to make changes to the way India runs.
But at the current pace, this parliamentary term ranks sixth out of 16 in the chart of ordinance use. Administrations that have used ordinances more frequently include Indira Gandhi’s government during the years when India was under emergency rule in the 1970s and later when the country saw three prime ministers in two years.
The latest example –the third in recent weeks — came on Monday to amend the Land Acquisition Bill making it easier for companies to purchase land for industrial projects.
The power to pass an ordinance is part of India’s constitution and is meant to be reserved for emergencies when Parliament is not in session. Officially, it’s the President of India who promulgates such temporary laws, on the advice of the government. The legislation stands for six weeks from the start of the next Parliament.
If it isn’t voted onto the permanent statute within that time, the ordinance lapses but can be reissued, so-called repromulgation, multiple times according to PRS Legislative Research, a Delhi based group that tracks the functioning of Parliament.
That is what happened with the coal mines ordinance that governs the allocation of coal mining licences: It was issued in October and reissued on Dec. 26 when the winter Parliament session ended without a vote on the issue.
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The cap on foreign investment in the insurance sector was also raised to 49% from 26% earlier this month, using, you guessed it, an ordinance.
Mr. Modi is trying to send a message to the business community, his political opposition and the common man, by shunting through reforms outside of the usual legislative mechanism, said analysts.
“He is telling them ‘I am serious about these reforms. I am staking my political credibility on them, this was my agenda and I am working on it,’” said Ashok Malik, a New Delhi-based political analyst and columnist.
Mr. Modi led a whirlwind political campaign earlier this year before his party came to power on a promise of development and economic growth but the first few months of his tenure were criticized from some quarters for failing to bring in big ticket reforms to kick start the economy and excite investors.
“His message is he is doing this in the name of development,” said Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “But the common man does not understand that you don’t need to bring out ordinances for such issues,” he added. Passing too many bills through ordinances erodes parliamentary process, where the merits and drawbacks of a bill are debated in Parliament, Mr. Kumar said.
“There may be clauses, problems that are not being looked at, that are not being discussed by parliamentarians,” said Mr. Kumar.
The temporary nature of the law is where Mr. Modi faces his next challenge.
“Looking at these ordinances a businessman will not put his money into projects. He will wait to hear from Parliament before starting investments,” said Mr. Malik.