New Delhi: In a major embarrassment to the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, some members of the ruling party joined the Opposition and stalled the introduction of the Judges (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Bill, 2009, in the Rajya Sabha on Monday.
The controversial Bill seeks declaration of judges’ assets without making them public and keeping the information out of the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The Bill saw opposition from within the Congress, with leaders such as Rajeev Shukla and Jayanthi Natarajan arguing that it went against the spirit of RTI, known to be the brainchild of the erstwhile National Advisory Council headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Information channel: Congress leaders such as Rajeev Shukla (above) and Jayanthi Natarajan argue the Bill goes against the spirit of RTI. Rajesh Kashyap / HT City
The party sought to play down internal opposition to the Bill.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi maintained that “the opinion by members (including the Congress) was part of the vibrancy of the democracy” and that the deferring of a Bill was part of the parliamentary work and procedure.
Party leaders, however, privately agree that there was lack of coordination between the party and the government on the details of the Bill.
While the Opposition was present in full strength of 102 members, 11 members of Parliament of the Congress party were absent from the Upper House when law minister Veerappa Moily was asked by deputy chairman K. Rahman Khan to introduce the Bill, which will require a constitutional amendment.
The embarrassment comes on a day when the government was forced to backtrack on its plan to set up a separate development authority for Bundelkhand.
“There is no proposal before the government which will alter the federal character of the country,” minister of state for parliamentary affairs Prithviraj Chavan told the Rajya Sabha.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week seeking a special package for Bundelkhand and with a demand for the creation of a board for development of the area, a move alleged by the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a violation of the country’s federal structure.
Meanwhile, the Opposition charged the government with attempting to differently interpret the purview of RTI. Those contesting elections to hold a public office and for those who are already in public offices such as the judiciary will be governed by different rules, the Opposition argued.
“The government is trying to carve out an exception for the judicial officers, which was opposed by everyone including their own members,” said leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and BJP leader Arun Jaitley.
Failing to muster the support of the House, Moily deferred the introduction of the Bill after the deputy chairman sought the opinion of the House in this regard.
While there is a provision for Bills to be put to vote to decide whether they should be introduced or not, the government on Monday chose not to insist on a vote, given that the numbers were against it.
The Congress party has only 67 members in the 230-member Rajya Sabha and would have found it difficult to win a vote.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance had suffered on this count in 2004. According to PRS Legislative Research, a New Delhi-based independent research outfit, on 4 February 2004, Murli Manohar Joshi, then minister of human resource development, had tried to introduce the University of Allahabad Bill, 2004, in the Rajya Sabha, which would have accorded national importance to the educational institution. The opposition members were against the introduction of the Bill, since it was brought just two days before the Lok Sabha was to be dissolved. A voice vote was called by the Congress and the NDA lost it by 69 to 52.