| Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi at the UPA-Left coordination committee meeting in New Delhi on Saturday. (AFP)
New Delhi, July 22: Nearly two months after President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam returned the office of profit bill to Parliament with a message to reconsider it, the government today decided not to suggest any changes in the controversial legislation.
At a meeting, the Union cabinet decided that the motion the government would move in response to the President’s message would urge Parliament to pass the Prevention of Disqualification Bill in its original form.
“In response to the President’s message, the government will move a motion appealing to Parliament to reconsider the bill in the form as it was passed earlier,” parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said after the meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The President cannot withhold assent if the bill is passed by Parliament for a second time. However, the Constitution does not specify any time limit for him to sign the bill.
Shortly after the meeting, the Prime Minister apprised Kalam of the government’s decision, Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesman S.M. Khan said.
The bill seeks to exempt 56 posts, including that of the chairperson of the National Advisory Council, from the list of offices of profit.
The disqualification of Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan and the subsequent resignation of Sonia Gandhi as NAC chairperson to steer clear of a similar fate had triggered the rush to pass the bill.
The Congress chief also resigned as MP before being re-elected to Parliament.
Das Munshi said the bill would be first brought before the Rajya Sabha on July 25. As it is the final House to pass the bill, the President’s message would be first “read out” in the upper House and then in the Lok Sabha, the minister said.
The bill, passed by the Lok Sabha on May 16 and the Rajya Sabha the following day, was sent to the President on May 25. But he returned the bill to Parliament with a message that the exemption criteria should be “fair and reasonable” and applicable in a “clear and transparent” manner across states and Union territories.
Another point the President raised was in relation to the posts sought to be exempted by the new law. The implication was that offices, for which petitions were pending before the competent authority, should be addressed by Parliament while reconsidering the bill.
The President also had misgivings about the retrospective clause in the bill, which helped several MPs escape disqualification.
Das Munshi dismissed suggestions that the cabinet’s decision showed disrespect to Kalam. The President, he said, is the highest respected institution and his message should be respected and debated maintaining dignity of office.
“MPs would respond to the President’s message as they feel and equally it is the duty of the government to respond to the motion,” he said.
Sources said the cabinet meeting saw an hour-long debate, with some suggesting that the impression should not be created that the government was on a confrontationist path with the President.
The sources said the government would make fresh efforts to reach a consensus on its proposed motion by holding talks with Opposition parties. The BJP has threatened to vote against the bill this time. Most other parties, however, are likely to fall in line. The Left is already with the government on the issue.