President Kalam's former secretary PM Nair has written a book, The Kalam Effect. He has criticized the former President for delay in signing the Office of Profit Bill after Parliament returned it without changing the original version. Nair says Kalam had no choice when the bill came to him a second time. The President, he reveals, was troubled by his conscience. Kalam himself after demitting office described his decision on the Bill as the "toughest" during his tenure. According to Nair he prevailed on the President and persuaded him to sign the Bill. It was a great pity he succeeded. President Kalam showed the right instinct. He did not err by delaying the signing of the Bill ' he erred in accepting his secretary's advice to eventually sign it.
Nair refers to Article 111 of the Constitution to make his case. He is right about the Article being unambiguous. The Article says if the President returns the Bill once for reconsideration to Parliament 'the Houses shall reconsider the Bill accordingly, and if the Bill is passed again by the Houses with or without amendment and presented to the President for assent, the President shall not withhold assent therefrom'.
There are two aspects which Nair seems to overlook. Had Parliament returned the unaltered Bill to the President without a rider, the President was bound to sign it. But Parliament itself accepted inadequacies in the Bill. It recognized the President's concerns as being valid. It assured him that those concerns would be addressed and Parliament would rectify the law through a Committee set up for the purpose.
The President is under solemn oath to preserve and protect the Constitution. He is the sole repository in the nation for discharging this responsibility. If there is a conflict between the President's oath of office and any Article of the Constitution, which should the President uphold? Is it appropriate for him to sign a Bill when Parliament itself acknowledges that it requires alteration? Could not the President indicate to Parliament that signing the Bill after revision would have been more appropriate?
Article 111 does not specify any time frame for the President to sign the Bill. Exploiting this, President Zail Singh sat over a controversial Bill and let it quietly die. Finally, if Parliament does force the President should he submit? Should he violate his oath of office or resign? President Kalam described the Bill as his toughest decision. Was he tough enough?