New Delhi, Dec 27: Pushing for passage of the Lokpal Bill in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today rejected demands for bringing CBI under the purview of the anti-graft ombudsman, warning that no entity should be created inconsistent with the country's Constitutional framework.
Intervening in the debate on Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, Singh dismissed opposition to the provision on setting up of Lokayuktas in states, saying federalism cannot be an impediment in the war against corruption as essential services in the states are the “bane” of corrupt practices.
“There are some very special moments in the life of a nation. This is one such moment. The nation awaits with bated breath how the collective wisdom of this House will be reflected in the vote at the end of the debate on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011,” he said.
Noting that the broad provisions of this Bill have been vigorously debated both in the public domain and by political parties, Singh said it was his “honest belief” that the Bill before the House lived up to the promise that members collectively made to the people by way of the sense of the House at the end of the debate on August 27.
Speaking amidst animated debate that coincided with Anna Hazare's hunger strike in Mumbai, Singh underlined that the task of legislation was “very serious business and must eventually be performed by all of us who have been constitutionally assigned this duty.”
He said “others can persuade and have their voices heard. But the decision must rest with us.”
Rejecting demands for bringing CBI under the purview of Lokpal, he said, “I believe that the CBI should function independently of the Lokpal. We believe that the CBI should function without interference through any Government diktat.”
Rejecting opposition demands for bringing CBI under the purview of Lokpal, Singh said, “I believe that the CBI should function independently of the Lokpal. We believe that the CBI should function without interference through any Government diktat.”
Speaking amidst animated debate that coincided with Hazare's hunger strike in Mumbai, the Prime Minister, who was present in the House throughout the debate, underlined that the task of legislation was “very serious business and must eventually be performed by all of us who have been constitutionally assigned this duty.”
Tearing into the Bill in its present form, Swaraj said it would “sow the seeds of second partition” as it has the provision for religion-based reservation which was “patently unconstitutional”.
The Leader of the Opposition also raised objections to several issues including creation of Lokayukta through the Lokpal Bill and the process of appointment and removal of the ombudsman and demanded inclusion of CBI under its ambit, saying she had moved amendments on these counts.
She dismissed as “farce” the way the bill has included the Prime Minister in its purview. “You have brought the Prime Minister with a lot of protection so that no one will be able to touch him,” she said, questioning the provision for in-camera proceedings and disallowing making public these proceedings even through RTI.
Demanding that Lokpal should be accountable to both Parliament and Supreme Court, CPI(M) leader Basudeb Acharia said corruption by corporates and business houses should be brought under the Lokpal ambit.
HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, who led the Congress counter-charge, hit out at the BJP saying it had “political motives” to delay the Bill so that it benefits them in the upcoming polls through Anna Hazare's campaign. “If you oppose this Bill, you will be violating the sense of the House and people will never forgive you,” he told the Opposition.
“As far as the issue of CBI functioning under the Lokpal is concerned, my Government believes that this would create an executive structure outside Parliament which is accountable to none,” the Prime Minister said, adding “This is anathema to sound constitutional principles.”
Expressing confidence that “the wisdom of this House will rise” to support the government's proposal as reflected in the Bill, he appealed to parties to “look beyond politics” to help fight the “cancer” of corruption in a “holistic” manner.
“We must keep in mind the fact that corruption and its consequences eat into the body politic. We have seen how public anger has manifested itself in the last one year,” he said, adding “Let us, therefore, endorse this Bill as proposed.”
He noted that in drafting the legislation, the government has had a wide range of consultations. “We have been enriched by the wisdom of political parties and all shades of opinion have been taken into account.”
Underlining the supremacy of Parliament, Singh said, “The power of the electorate is the ultimate authority which brings accountability to our democratic institutions. In endangering democracy, we will only be unleashing the forces of chaos where reason will give way to emotion.”
He reminded the House that “we are creating something for the future in response to the inadequacies of the present. We have to be mindful of the pitfalls when we look into the future.”
The Prime Minister, who sat through the day-long debate, appealed to leaders of all parties to “rise above partisan politics” to demonstrate to the people of the country that “this House means business” in its effort to combat corruption.
On the contentious issue of Lokayuktas, he reminded that “all of us are party to the resolution reflecting the ‘sense of the House' in which we committed to establish Lokayuktas in the states along with the Lokpal.”
His comment came amid opposition by several parties, including some UPA constituents like DMK, to the provision which makes it mandatory for states to set up Lokayuktas.
“We would be in breach of the promise that this House made to the nation if we do not provide for the mechanism of the Lokayuktas by taking recourse to citing articles of the Constitution as impediments,” Singh said, adding “such a course of action should not derail the sense of the House.”
Federalism, he said, “cannot be an impediment in the war against corruption.”
Making a strong pitch for Lokayuktas, Singh said, “setting up of Lokayuktas in states will go a long way in addressing the sense of frustration that is reflected in the anger that we see around us.”
He pointed out that the ‘aam aadmi' faces problems with regard to essential services like water, electricity, municipal services, land records, policing and ration shops provided by state and local authorities.
“The central government is responsible for providing a limited number of public services directly to the citizen. The real problem lies in the domain of state governments where the ‘aam aadmi' feels the pinch of petty corruption on a daily basis,” Singh said, adding, “It is here that the bane of corruption needs to be combated.”
“Unless Lokayuktas are put in place, the cancer of corruption will spread,” the Prime Minister said, appealing “let us not delay the issue any further.”
Local as well as state authorities are charged with providing essential services to the common man, he said, adding it was for this reason that Group C and Group D employees have been brought within the ambit of Lokayuktas in states.
He said even the major flagship schemes of the central government are implemented by public functionaries working under the state government and members express their disillusionment with the way central schemes are implemented by states. “We need to remedy this.”
With regard to CBI, Singh said he also believed that the agency should function independently of the Government.
“But independence does not mean absence of accountability,” he said, adding the government has, therefore, proposed a process of appointment of the CBI Director which involves the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India or his nominee and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
“None should have doubts about the integrity of this process,” he said.
“In the ultimate analysis, all institutions within the framework of the Constitution are accountable to Parliament and Parliament alone,” he added.
In the course of the debate, the Prime Minister noted that the bureaucracy has been at the receiving end and came to their defence.
“While I agree that public functionaries must be above board and that delinquents must be dealt with expeditiously and decisively, I must express my deep appreciation for many a public servant who have shown exemplary integrity in discharging their functions in an environment of distrust,” he said.
He advised against painting all public functionaries as also all politicians with the same brush of being presumed to be corrupt. “We must not throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Noting that no government could deliver without a functional, efficient administrative system, Singh said, “Let us not supplant the system with one in which the public servants will hesitate to fearlessly record what they think and in that process endanger the very soul of good governance.
“In judging the conduct of public servants, we must not lose sight of the need to distinguish genuine and honest mistakes in the discharge of their duties from patently illegal acts.”
Very often public servants have to take decisions under “conditions of uncertainty” and “the future being inherently uncertain, it is possible that an action which ex-ante appears to be rational may ex-post turn out to be faulty,” he said.
He underlined that “our systems of reward and punishment must not lose sight of this fact” and “all systems of governance must be based on trust.”
It is the people's trust that government reflects and protects, Singh said, adding, “rampant distrust of all authority imperils the foundations of democracy.
“Our polity with its enormous size and diversity can only be held together when we put our faith and trust in institutions that we have carefully built over the years.”
Seeking urgent passage of the bill, he said, “we, as the representatives of the people, must act now to start yet another journey to rebuild the trust that is essential for a strong and vibrant India.”