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A file photo of Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia. Photo: Hindustan Times
A file photo of Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia. Photo: Hindustan Times

Delhi cabinet passes anti-graft Jan Lokpal Bill

Cabinet clears draft law on first day of winter session amid ruckus over paying homage to VHP leader Ashok Singhal

New Delhi: The Delhi government on Wednesday moved closer to delivering on its election promise of an anti-corruption ombudsman as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) cabinet passed the anti-graft Jan Lokpal Bill.

The draft law was cleared by the cabinet on the first day of the winter session of the Delhi legislative assembly, which saw sharp exchanges between the ruling party and the legislators of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the issue of paying homage to Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) chief patron Ashok Singhal, who died on Tuesday.

The Jan Lokpal Bill was the main electoral promise of the AAP in the February Delhi assembly elections, as its leader, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, sought to make amends for resigning from his minority government in 2013 after failing to get the bill passed in the face of opposition from both the Congress and the BJP.

The party returned to power in Delhi with a massive majority, winning 67 of the state’s 70 assembly seats.

“The historic Delhi Jan Lokpal Bill is passed by Delhi cabinet. Congrats to all who have spent days and nights for it. Congrats Delhi...we did what we promised," deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter.

The Jan Lokpal Bill was formulated during the popular anti-corruption movement led by activist Anna Hazare and anchored by Kejriwal.

It was projected as civil society’s alternative to the then proposed central legislation, the Lokpal Bill.

It was the defeat of a resolution to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill in the assembly in November 2013 that led to Kejriwal stepping down from his first stint as chief minister, which lasted for 49 days.

Political analysts said that though the party has been late in passing the bill, it is nonetheless a welcome move.

“Better late than never. Corruption was the main election plank of AAP and the party should have acted earlier as it has been in power for nine months now. Kejriwal had promised an institutional arrangement to combat corruption and we finally see that happening," said Abhay Kumar Dubey, associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a research institute.

Meanwhile, the first day of the winter session saw a bitter exchange between the AAP legislators and the three BJP members when the latter demanded the house pay tribute to Singhal, who was a controversial politician.

The session began with lawmakers observing a two-minute silence for the victims of last week’s Paris terror attacks.

This was followed by a demand by the leader of the opposition Vijender Gupta for paying homage to Singhal as well.

But AAP legislators, including Amantullah Khan, Somnath Bharti and Jagdeep Singh, strongly opposed the demand saying Singhal had played a divisive role in politics as one of the key figures behind the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid and was underserving of a tribute.

After acrimonious exchanges between the two parties, speaker Ram Niwas Goyal rejected this demand saying that the House could not pay homage to the VHP leader as he did not hold any constitutional position.

“Ashok Singhal was not a member of the Delhi Vidhan Sabha, neither was he a Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha member. So it does not make sense to pay tribute to him," Goyal said.

“This demand was but natural due to the ideological affiliations between the BJP and VHP. Moreover, with a negligible presence in the Delhi assembly, the BJP will not miss any opportunity to create obstacles for the majority AAP," said Dubey.

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