Kerala: Special Assembly session as LDF seeks to enact legislations to replace lapsed ordinances

Special session of the Assembly has been necessitated by the Governor's refusal to re-promulgate 11 lapsed ordinances.

ByK A Shaji

Published Aug 11, 2022 | 9:03 AMUpdatedAug 11, 2022 | 10:32 AM

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan with Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan. (South First)

Two days after 11 crucial ordinances expired as Governor Arif Muhammed Khan refused to re-promulgate them, Kerala’s LDF government on Wednesday, 10 August, decided to convene a 10-day special session of the state Assembly from 22 August to enact legislations replacing them.

With a comfortable majority in the house, the government is expected replace not only the 11 ordinances, but about nine others that are yet to lapse.

The move is being seen as a bid by the LDF government to avoid, for the time being, any confrontation with the Governor by insisting that he sign the ordinances.

Speaker MB Rajesh has been entrusted with the task of conveying the request for a special session to the Governor as soon as he arrives in Thiruvananthapuram from New Delhi on Thursday.

Though Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan reportedly termed the Governor’s refusal to re-promulgate the ordinances as unusual at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, there was no public comment over the issue by any leader of the ruling front.

While relations between the LDF and the Governor have been frosty of late, the government does not expect Khan to object to the special session being called at such short notice.

Ordinance curtailing Governor’s powers as Chancellor

Khan is reportedly annoyed with the state government’s move to promulgate a new ordinance taking away all powers vested with the Governor as Chancellor of all universities in the state.

However, highly placed sources in the government have confirmed to South First that the new ordinance will not be promulgated soon, and it has been kept in abeyance to win back the confidence of the Governor, who has been engaged in a cat and mouse game with the state government for long.

Meanwhile, Khan interacted with the media in New Delhi and said he would examine if any emergency existed that required the re-promulgation of the ordinances that lapsed for want of his approval on 8 August.

“I must apply my mind if ordinances come to me for a second term without being placed in the legislature. I  have to confirm whether any emergency existed or not. In my case, I will definitely have to apply my mind and exercise my fair judgement. Only then can I sign,” he asserted.

According to Khan, 13 or 14 draft ordinances were sent to him on the day he was leaving the state last week to attend a meeting of the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ committee in New Delhi, and he did not have the time to go through all of them.

He also refuted reports that his refusal to sign the ordinances was due to displeasure with the state government’s alleged proposal to bring an ordinance to dilute his powers as Chancellor of the universities.

‘I will be guided by no one’

“While exercising my duties, I shall not be guided by anybody. I shall be guided only by my straight thought, independence, and judgement,” Khan said.

The Governor further said that he was being forced to sign and re-promulgate ordinances when the legislature was in session. Khan said the power to issue ordinances was to be used only when the Assembly was not in session, “it is not an absolute power”.

“Once I sign an ordinance, it has to be tabled before the House. Now, after signing the ordinance, six months later, I am being asked to re-promulgate it. In between, the session of Assembly was held. Immediacy means there is no session being held,” he explained.

Among the ordinances that expired on August 8, the Kerala Lokayukta (Amendment) Ordinance aims at weakening the judicial powers currently enjoyed by the anti-corruption body. It permits the Governor, chief minister, or the state government to either accept or reject the verdicts of the Lokayukta.

There were allegations that the ordinance was aimed at weakening the Lokayukta as a solid anti-corruption platform. The Congress-led opposition UDF was against the ordinance and had, in February, urged the Governor not to sign it.

The face-off between Khan and the LDF resurfaced after a brief lull last week, when the Governor sought an explanation from the vice chancellor of Kannur University on the appointment of Priya Varghese — wife of former Rajya Sabha member KK Ragesh, who also happens to be Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s private secretary — as  associate professor in the Malayalam Department.

A controversy has been raging for the last nine months since the LDF-controlled University Syndicate allegedly chose Varghese over more qualified candidates.

The Thiruvananthapuram-based Save University Campaign Committee (SUCC) has alleged irregularities in Varghese’s selection, contending she did not possess the minimum eligibility for the post, which requires a research degree with eight years of experience at the assistant professor level.

The SUCC petition in this regard has been pending with the Governor since November last year.

Kerala University controversy

In the meantime, the Governor opened yet another front with the government by constituting an expert committee without any representative of the Kerala University to trace suitable candidates for the post of vice chancellor at the university.

The committee comprises a nominee of the Governor in his capacity as Chancellor of the university, apart from a representative of the University Grants Commission (UGC). Though an official communique from the Raj Bhavan said the university’s nominee would be incorporated later when the institution finalises its representative, university sources said its request seeking three weeks to finalise the nominee was rejected.

The swift moves of Khan took place at a time when the state government was preparing the controversial ordinance to curtail the role of the Governor as Chancellor in the affairs of universities, including recruitments and nominations.

‘Kerala ahead in enacted legislations’

Meanwhile, Speaker Rajesh on Wednesday responded indirectly to the Governor’s allegation that Kerala preferred ordinances to bypass the legislature. Without naming Khan, Rajesh said that Kerala stands far ahead of Parliament and different state Assemblies in the number of enacted legislations and the time consumed in the process.

“Only the Corona virus induced lockdowns affected our business hours in the last three years, and that created a situation where we had to issue ordinances. Now we are on a time-bound mission to convert ordinances into legislations. Kerala is in fact a model for the entire nation in effective running of legislature affairs,” he claimed.