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Friday 23 December 2011

Lokpal Bill is in, jury is out

Lokpal Bill is in, jury is out

New Delhi Virtually forced into drafting it, the government today introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha that aims to fight corruption via the Lokpal at the centre and Lokayuktas in the states, an unprecedented oversight body whose members are selected, and which is set to be dominated by members of the higher judiciary.
The singular theme emerging from the proceedings of the house today was the unease across the political establishment in dealing with a bill that virtually all were wary of. The provision for reservations for minorities in the Lokpal quickly became a minority vs majority issue and threatened to overwhelm the debate once it begins on December 27.
That's not all. Speaker after speaker in the Lok Sabha got up to question the "tearing hurry" in which the bill was being pushed through and the threats by Anna Hazare and his team as they prepare for yet another fast beginning the same day as the debate in the house.
Overriding all objections, minister of state in the PMO V Narayanasamy introduced, along with The Constitutional (116th Amendment) Bill, The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, that includes the prime minister in its domain and binds the states to create Lokayuktas. The new legislation replaces the Lokpal bill introduced earlier.
Going by the applause RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta and Shiv Sena leader Anant Geete evoked following their attacks on Anna Hazare and his tactics, the political class was visibly anti-Lokpal. This despite the fact that they had gathered to pass the bill under pressure from the very same Hazare.
Congress MPs who thumped their desks as Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee defended the government move, cheered Lalu and Dasgupta. Even Geete drew applause from the treasury benches. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi repeatedly thumped their desks as Lalu and Dasgupta ridiculed Hazare — Dasgupta, without mentioning his name, said Hazare thought he was another "father of the nation" — and underlined the sovereignty of parliament.
"We are disappointed," said Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, and listed two objections. She said the provision for "not less than 50 per cent" reservation for SCs, STs, OBCs, women and minorities in the proposed nine-member Lokpal body — including the chairman — violated the Supreme Court ruling keeping the cap on 50 per cent.
The move for a religion-based reservation was "patently unconstitutional," she said. She said the portion dealing with state Lokayuktas struck at the federal structure because it was done under Section 253, which made it mandatory for states.
The Congress leadership, which initially had the minority reservation provision included in the draft bill, had changed its mind late last night. The provision was brought back following pressure from its allies. The party leadership was aware of the lack of constitutional backing for the move but the game was to go in for it, send a signal to its Muslim constituency and leave it to the BJP to oppose the move. If the court struck down the minority reservation provision, then so be it.
Mukherjee, however, put up a spirited show. He said that the introduction could be opposed only on the ground of "legislative competence" of the house. The finance minister said it should be left to the court to sit on judgment over the legislation. Claiming there was no duress, he told the house: "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."
The members, Mukherjee said, were free to change the clauses in the bill or drop them. He said, "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 reminded the members that the legislation had been on the anvil for 43 years. He said there had been an agitation (of Hazare) and another one was impending. The current events, according to him, could be traced back to April... Where is the question of duress? There is no undue haste."
The finance minister lost his cool and exclaimed "kaun whip diya" (who issued a whip) as Lalu referred to a supposed "whip" issued by the Congress to its members to back the bill. However, Sonia could be seen gesturing to Mukherjee to calm down and not join the issue. An unsparing Mukherjee also took a dig at Dasgupta and sought to know whose party chief (CPI general secretary A B Bardhan) had spoken from Hazare's platform.
Leaders of several parties, including Sharad Yadav (Janata Dal-U), Basudeb Acharia (CPM), Bhartruhari Mahtab (BJD), T K S Elangovan (DMK), M Thambidurai (AIADMK), Nama Nageswara Rao (TDP) and Geete (Shiv Sena), made it clear that the rights of states should not be encroached upon.
Lalu, Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) and Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) opposed the idea of bringing the prime minister under the purview of Lokpal.

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