Kerala Governor-Pinarayi govt tussle returns after a break

Kerala Governor-Pinarayi govt tussle returns after a break

By refusing to ratify 11 ordinances, the Governor has decided to take the Kerala government head-on after a short break.

Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, who is in New Delhi, told the media that he could not sign the ordinances for two reasons – first, ordinances were sent for his perusal only the previous day and he required more time to study them. Second, he does not appreciate ‘governance through ordinance’.

According to him, too many rules are being brought into existence through ordinances instead of statutes properly discussed and passed by the Assembly, which would weaken the democratic system.

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The government is clearly irked.

P Rajeev, Minister for Industries and Law, said ordinances were being issued only under specific circumstances and that he does not support ‘ordinance raj’.

“We follow the practice of convening special sessions of the Assembly for converting ordinances into Acts. The ordinances sent to the Governor were scheduled to be converted into Bills and presented in the October session,” he told the media.

Ordinance on Public Health 

The 11 ordinances that expired include the one regarding curtailing the powers of Lokayukta Kerala. The amendment empowers the chief minister to reject or accept the orders of Lokayukta with regard to matters concerning Assembly members and ministers.

The Kerala Public Health Ordinance too expired and is now awaiting the Governor’s approval for a second time. This ordinance was issued to consolidate and unify the state’s existing laws on public health. Other ordinances that expired included Kerala Maritime Board Amendment, Local Self-Governance Public Service, Kerala Private Forests vesting and Assignment and Kerala Cooperative Societies Amendment.

In addition, there are two bills awaiting the Governor’s approval. The Cooperative Societies Amendment Bill 2022 and the University Laws Amendment Bill 2021 were tabled in the Assembly and are yet to be ratified by the Governor.

Highest ordinances, maximum Assembly sitting days

According to the Policy Research Institute India (PRI) report, Kerala promulgated 144 ordinances in 2021, the highest among all states. At the same time, the Kerala assembly is far ahead of the national average in the total number of days on which Assembly sessions were held. The report states that in 2021, 29 Assemblies met for an average of 21 days. The average is boosted by three states – Kerala (61), Odisha (43) and Karnataka (40), which met for 40 days or more. Despite having a good record as far as sitting days are concerned, Kerala had to go with a large number of ordinances because 61 per cent of the sitting was held for the Budget session, according to the report of PRI.

Despite having the highest number of sittings in the country and being the only Assembly that met for more than 60 days, Kerala has the highest number of ordinances. According to PRI’s report, in Kerala, the ordinances are promulgated between sessions when immediate action is required. In Kerala, 130 ordinances were promulgated within four weeks of the session’s end. Only four ordinances were promulgated in the month before the start of a session.

The report also said the Kerala Assembly performed well during the time of the pandemic. “In 2020, the average sitting days dipped to 17, which may be due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdowns. During this time period, Kerala had the highest number of sitting days at 49 days a year on average. In the last two decades (1997-2019), the Kerala Assembly met for an average of 49 days a year. In 2021, the Assembly sat for 61 days, the highest in the last 15 years,” said the report.

Discussion on Bills

PRI’s report also shows that Kerala is among the states that spend time on discussing a bill in detail before passing it.  “Five states took more than five days to pass a majority of their Bills (more than 50 per cent). These are Karnataka, Kerala, Meghalaya, Odisha and Rajasthan. In Kerala, 94 per cent of the Bills were passed after at least five days of their introduction in the legislature. The corresponding figure was 70 per cent for Karnataka and 80 per cent for Meghalaya,” states the report.

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According to the report, the quality of the Bills being passed by many Assemblies is a cause of concern. In 2021, 44 per cent of Bills were passed within a day of their introduction in the legislature. All Bills were passed on the same day they were introduced in eight states, including Gujarat, West Bengal, Punjab, and Bihar. The outgoing Punjab Assembly introduced and passed 16 Bills in its last sitting.

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