New Delhi, Dec 22: A historic bill for creation of an anti-graft ombudsman with Constitutional status was introduced in the Lok Sabha today amid objections by various parties to bringing the Prime Minister under its purview and making it mandatory for states to form Lokayuktas.
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 was introduced along with a Constitutional (116th Amendment) Bill, even as several parties questioned the “haste” and asserted that Parliament should not allow itself to “succumb” to some individual threatening agitation, a reference to Anna Hazare.
At the same time, the previous Lokpal Bill, 2011, introduced in August, was withdrawn.
Rejecting the contention of “undue haste”, the government declared that it was under “no duress” on the issue and it was for Parliamentarians to decide the fate of the Bill.
“If you feel it is not necessary, we will not have it. Legislation is the domain of Parliament. It is not made on the ‘dharna manch' or on the streets,” Finance Minister and Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee said.
Various parties, including BJP, Shiv Sena, RJD, AIMIM and AIADMK, opposed introduction of the bill in the current form and wanted the government to revise it.
Parties like RJD, Samajwadi Party, AIMIM, AIADMK opposed bringing the Prime Minister under the purview of a body which would be “accountable to nobody”.
BJP, JD(U), BJD, AIADMK, DMK and CPI(M) objected to a provision in the Lokpal Bill, claiming that it made it “mandatory” for states to set up Lokayuktas and was an “attack” on the federal structure.
Several members also objected to the circulation of Corrigenda and the Supplementary List of Business at the last minute, contending that this “monumental inefficiency” and “Parliamentary mismanagement” left no time for them to study the legislation which will affect the country's future.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj objected to the provision for “not less than 50 per cent” reservation for minorities in the proposed Lokpal bench, saying it would mean five in nine-member bench which was “patently unconstitutional” as there was no provision for quota on the basis of religion.
She noted that there were dozens of Supreme Court orders which said that there should be no reservation beyond 50 per cent. She did not want the judiciary to strike it down.
Swaraj said this bill should not be introduced and the government should bring a revised one.
To this, Mukherjee said the “legislative competence” should be left to the House and objected to any discussion on the merits of the bill at its introduction stage.
“It is the Constitutional responsibility of the House to pass a law. It is for the judiciary to pick holes. Let this House not assume the role of judiciary,” he retorted.
“Whether to pass a bill or not, depends on the numbers,” he said, noting that the Lokpal Bill was “not an ordinary piece of legislation” but something for which the country has been waiting for 40 years.
Giving the context of the move, Mukherjee reminded the House that there had been an “agitation” (by Anna Hazare) and another one was impending. He also referred to the other developments like the meetings of Joint Drafting Committee involving civil society and all-party meetings.
“Current events are the efforts since April...Where is the question of duress? There is no undue haste,” he said.
“Nothing is being dictated. 543 members of this House (Lok Sabha) will finally decide the fate of Lokpal,” Mukherjee said, adding if “any deficiencies” were found, these could be addressed through amendments. “Don't blame the government for what it is not responsible.”
On the controversy over provision for Lokayuktas, he said the concerns would be addressed when the act is notified.
At the same time, he admitted that there could have been a “mismatch in legislative business” but was not not unusual.
Referring to the flip-flop with regard to reference to minorities in the new bill, he said originally it was included but after discussions with political parties, questions were raised about its Constitutional validity and it was deleted.
Later it was decided to let the judiciary decide whether it is constitutionally valid or not, Mukherjee said.
He noted that decisions had been taken earlier which were later declared as ultra vires by the courts.
The 64-page Bill brings the PM under the purview of Lokpal with certain conditions but keeps out CBI from its control. However, the Lokpal will have superintendence over CBI in corruption cases referred by it to the investigation agency.
It has been proposed that the CBI Director will be selected by a three-member committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court Judge nominated by him.
The changes in the appointment process will be made by amending the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, according to the Bill.
Opposing introduction of the Bill, SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav said it was unconstitutional to make the Prime Minister answerable to Lokpal instead of Parliament.
“It is being assumed that all members of the Lokpal would be honest. Is it correct? Will Lokpal not misuse powers and blackmail the government?.. This bill should not be allowed to be introduced,” he said.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad strongly asked the government not to take any “wrong step” under the “fear” of agitation.
“We want Lokpal Bill. Everybody wants to fight corruption. But the Bill should be strong. This is not strong and is full of limitations,” he said, asking “will corruption end in this manner?”
Hitting out at Anna Hazare and his team, Prasad said, “if someone goes on fast for the benefit of his health, what do we have to do with it?... Three-four people cannot dictate to Parliament. We are the lawmakers.”
Attacking the government for bringing the bill in “utter haste”, he underlined that “it is not a minor issue” and warned that the nation will “never forgive us” if any wrong measure is put in place.
He said there were some provisions in the Bill which even Hazare had not demanded.
He also had a piece of advice for Hazare, saying he should pay attention to his health and praised Bal Thackeray for opposing the Bill.
At the same time, he argued in favour of more than 50 per cent reservation in the Lokpal Bench, saying that it was not government service where there is a cap of 50 per cent.