“We have no guarantee that the Bharatiya Janata Party (the principal opposition party) will let Parliament function. Their behaviour in the last session does not inspire confidence. They could demand the resignation of somebody else in the monsoon session and derail that as well. Therefore, we have to be prepared for that eventuality. But we would much rather that the Bill is discussed on the floor of Parliament, instead of having to announce it as an ordinance and having it endorsed by Parliament later,” said a top government source in the ministry of rural development.
He said neither the Prime Minister or the Congress president or the finance minister had the appetite to ram the Bill through. However, parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath (whose home state, Madhya Pradesh, is heading for an election at the end of the year, where the BJP is in power) is keen to project that party as an irresponsible, anti-poor opposition, repeatedly obstructing measures which would benefit ordinary people.
Nath is currently in Netherlands and is expected to return on Thursday, in time for a Cabinet meeting. The ordinance, if that is the route decided, could come up at the meeting, though it is not part of the agenda yet.
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh told a television channel today that a decision would be taken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Nath.
The government had actually got the backing of the BJP last month for the Bill, till the latter turned against the former over the ongoing coal allocation case in the Supreme Court and revelations about the scams in the railways ministry. The two issues prompted the Opposition to prevent Parliament from conducting business in the budget session
The Bill had earlier gone to a committee of MPs and many of the latter’s recommendations were incorporated in the document placed before Parliament. If it now has to come as an ordinance, it is because of reasons beyond the control of the government, an official said.
Communist Party of India leader D Raja said an ordinance on the Bill would be undemocratic. Several aspects in the Bill were not acceptable to his party, he said.
He dismissed the idea of the government approaching political parties or states for consensus. “We have seen what happened last time. Earlier, the BJP was against the Bill and then its demand to take land on lease was accepted and it was said there was consensus of the opposition. If the Congress and BJP agree, it is consensus. We feel the Bill has to be debated thoroughly, as it is a very significant piece of legislation and can’t be pushed as an ordinance,” he said.