Lokpal Bill passed in Lok Sabha; Anna Hazare breaks fast4 min read . Updated: 19 Dec 2013, 12:10 AM IST
India set to receive its first anti-graft ombudsman more than 40 years after a similar draft law was approved
New Delhi: India is set to receive its first anti-corruption ombudsman after the Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, more than 40 years after giving its approval to a similar draft law.
Coming amid a raft of corruption charges against ministers, politicians, government officials and corporations, the Lok Sabha’s near-unanimous move followed the passage of the amended draft law in the upper house of Parliament on Tuesday.
The ruling Congress party and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came together to pass the landmark legislative measure. Barring the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) and the BJP’s ally Shiv Sena, nearly all prominent parties were near unanimous in passing the Bill.
The sweep of the Bill for anti-corruption probes by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) takes in the Prime Minister, serving and former lawmakers, government officials, and employees funded or controlled by the Union government.
The Bill, which will set up ombudsmen at the centre and directs the states to do so as well, will become law after it receives the President’s assent.
“Today, we have the chance to create history by passing the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011. I request all the members to come together and pass the Bill," Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi told the Lok Sabha before the Bill was passed.
Members showed rare unity, passing the draft law with a voice vote after law minister Kapil Sibal tabled it with the agreement of speaker Meira Kumar, who had waived off the requirement of a two-day notice period.
The Bill chimes in with some of the long-standing demands of anti-corruption movements and the mood of voters. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) performed spectacularly in the recent Delhi assembly elections, pushing the ruling Congress party to third place with an anti-graft plank.
“There are improvements possible (in the Bill), but the way it has been passed is a matter of concern. It is more of a reaction to the election in Delhi rather than the belief that this is what needs to be done. Passing such an important Bill without a serious discussion in Parliament is also a matter of serious concern," said Jagdeep Chhokar, a former director in-charge at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and founder member of the Association for Democratic Reforms.
“It remains to be seen how it gets implemented because there are several institutions which exist but are not performing the way they should," he added.
Legislation to set up a lokpal was first passed by the Lok Sabha in 1969, but it lapsed after the upper house failed to clear it.
“We are very happy that Parliament in its wisdom has chosen to enact Lokpal legislation," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said. Congress president Sonia Gandhi also said she was “very happy" about the passage of the Bill.
In the House, Rahul Gandhi asked if the winter session of Parliament could be extended to push through other anti-corruption legislation, but the house was adjourned sine die soon after.
However, parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath indicated that the lower house could be reconvened in the New Year for passage of the vote-on-account ahead of the general election, instead of going in for a budget session.
“We have adjourned the session sine die; we have not prorogued the session and it can be brought at a short notice," he told reporters, adding that the other political parties would be consulted on it.
The winter session ended two days ahead of schedule and could not transact much business, apart from those on the last two days, including passing the anti-graft Bill. The Rajya Sabha sat on two days.
Both chambers were repeatedly adjourned because of disruptions by lawmakers protesting price rise, the Telangana issue, and deaths of children in relief camps in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. Three notices for no-confidence motions against the government could not be considered either.
On Wednesday, Yadav spoke out against the Bill in the Lok Sabha, saying it would discourage government officials from putting anything on paper. As in the Rajya Sabha a day earlier, Yadav’s party staged a walk out in the Lok Sabha too on Wednesday.
Sushma Swaraj of the BJP, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, supporting the measure, said political parties appeared to be rushing to take credit.
“Since yesterday, there is a race to take credit for the Bill by the ruling party or crediting it to their vice-president. If there is one individual who should be given credit for this, then it is the old man who has been fasting again and again, shaking our consciousness," she said, referring to anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare.
Seventy-six-year-old Hazare broke his fast after nine days at Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra after the Lok Sabha passed the Bill. He later said he will form “watchdog bodies" in states and districts to ensure that the law is enforced.
Hazare, however, made no mention of AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal or those members of the anti-corruption movement who have joined the party, amid reports of a rift.
PTI contributed to this story.