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Past Expiry

The tenuous legal grounds for re-promulgating ordinances

On the last day of 2014, the Narendra Modi-led government promulgated the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Ordinance, 2014. The ordinance, a law put into effect by the cabinet without the approval of the legislature, undid key features of the original land acquisition law, enacted in 2013. The revised rules benefited both government departments and private entities by increasing the categories of acquisition for which consent would not have to be obtained, and social impact assessments carried out.

These were controversial changes. The Congress party and its allies immediately objected; so did some constituents of the ruling National Democratic Alliance. In March, the government tried to make the ordinance permanent by presenting it for consideration before the parliament, but an unlikely coalition stared it down. The proposed bill passed in the Lok Sabha, where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has a comfortable majority. In the Rajya Sabha, however, where the BJP is in the minority,
it was blocked by other parties.

The Modi government dug its heels in, and insisted on keeping the ordinance alive. It was re-promulgated twice in the next three months. As of mid August, more than seven months after it was initially enforced, the land ordinance remained in effect, though its parliamentary fate was still uncertain.

Shubhankar Dam is an associate professor of law at the City University of Hong Kong, and the author of Presidential Legislation in India: The Law and Practice of Ordinances (Cambridge, 2014).

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