Stormy start to Lokpal Bill debate in Lok Sabha

Stormy start to Lokpal Bill debate in Lok Sabha

New Delhi: The much-awaited Lokpal Bill was on Tuesday taken up for consideration by the Lok Sabha on a stormy note with the Opposition demanding its withdrawal contending it was full of deficiencies, even as the government asserted that it had sought to strike a fine balance.

Narayanasamy contended that the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill had several unique features like confiscation of properties of any person believed to have committed an offence relating to corruption.

As the minister was speaking, RJD chief Lalu Prasad was on his feet claiming that the Lokpal Bill was an attack on the federal structure of the Constitution.

When Narayanasamy referred to setting up of Lokayuktas and lack of anti-corruption ombudsman in Gujarat, AIADMK and BJP members were on their feet shouting slogans against the government.

Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj dubbed the Bill as full of deficiencies and wanted “the weak bill" to be sent back to the Parliamentary Standing Committee so as to make it “effective and strong".

“Accept our amendments or withdraw the Bill... Send it back to standing committee for further discussion," she said while describing it as a “patently unconstitutional" legislation which the Opposition will not “tolerate".

Prasad also demanded withdrawal of the Bill contending that it was brought in “haste under pressure" from Anna Hazare.

Tearing into the Bill presented by the government, Swaraj said the Lokpal Bill in its present form would “sow the seeds of second partition" as it has the provision for religion- based reservation which was “patently unconstitutional".

“I warn you that you should not sow the seeds of second partition by going in for religion-based reservation," she told the Prime Minister, adding that Manmohan Singh had himself suffered the trauma and pain of the tragedy.

Noting that what was being sought to be passed would not be good for the country, Swaraj reminded Singh that he had himself narrated an Urdu couplet once in the House - ‘lamhon ne khata ki, sadiyon ne saza payee’ (a mistake committed in minutes have led to ages of suffering).

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.

Swaraj questioned the provision for in-camera proceedings and disallowing making public these proceedings even through RTI.

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.

During the debate, which saw a war of words between opposition and the government, Swaraj said the Lokpal Bill aimed at creating a “weak" institution that will not have powers to even appoint its own secretary.

The BJP leader charged that at the same time the Lokpal would be so strong that it would be able to seek reports from the Speaker or chairman of the two Houses of Parliament on why they were not taking action on complaints against MPs.

“This is unheard of as the Presiding Officers are not even answerable to any court," she said.

Referring to provisions on the appointment and removal of Lokpal, Swaraj said while the ombudsman would be appointed by a panel dominated by government representatives, his removal would be solely in the hands of the government.

“How can the Lokpal be independent if it is completely in the grip of the government?" she asked, and suggested that the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha should be included, replacing the jurist in the selection panel.

Claiming that while two Ministers - Kapil Sibal and Pranab Mukherjee - maintained that the law would make Lokayukta in states optional, Mos in PMO Narayanasamy said it was mandatory. Swaraj alleged that the government was speaking in “different voices".

She insisted that if the Lokayukta was being formed under Article 253 of the Constitution, then it would amount to an attack on the federal structure.

“We wanted this Bill in the Winter Session but did not want such a Bill which will even destroy the existing system. We wanted a strong and effective legislation," Swaraj said, adding, “Send Lokpal Bill again to Parliamentary Standing Committee for further discussion and return it after 2-3 months," Swaraj said.

At one point, Swaraj interjected Sibal to say that her party was ready to pass the Bill on Tuesday itself if it was modeled on the one passed in BJP-ruled Uttarakhand.

At the outset, she said the way Narayanasamy placed the Bill for debate showed that the government was in a fit of rage as normally ministers introduce bills “very calmly and ask for support". But the way Narayanasamy did it, it looked that he was ready for battle.

The debate saw a war of words between the opposition and Sibal when he was speaking on the merits of the Bill.

Sibal asked Swaraj how she could state that Lokayuktas will not be appointed as per the provisions of the Bill when this had been agreed to in the “sense of the House" agreement.

He said whether the Lokayukta provision should be brought in under Article 252 or 253 should be decided by the courts.

Sibal said corruption was more prevalent in states and cited Karnataka as an example. This made BJP members from the southern state to rise on the feet and shout against him.

He said nobody was stopping BJP from appointing Lokayuktas in states where it is in power. He maintained that the institution of Lokayukta in these states was weak as the person is appointed by the chief minister.

“For the past nine years, the Gujarat government has not appointed Lokayukta... Why have you not appointed Lokayukta in Gujarat," Sibal said, charging that the opposition wants to “embrace" corruption in states.

He alleged that BJP is playing politics over the Lokpal issue and does not want the Bill to be passed. He hit out at the Left parties saying no public functionary was brought under the ambit of Lokayukta in the CPI (M)-ruled Tripura.

Sibal alleged that the intention of the BJP is not to allow any representation of 16 crore people from the minority community and women to be represented in the Lokpal.

“This argument (of no reservation for minorities in Lokpal) is unconstitutional," he said.

Arguing against giving all encompassing powers to Lokpal, Sibal said the Constitution provides for balance of power. “...we are here not to divert all powers to a single institution," he said.

The minister defended the provision that the panel of names for selection of Lokpal would be provided by the government, saying this was the established practice as in the case of CVC and EC.

Warding off opposition charge that the Bill seeks to “bullet-proof" the Prime Minister from the Lokpal, Sibal said this had been done as the “Opposition fires without thinking".

He alleged that BJP speaks in different voices inside and outside the House.

Provoked by Sibal, Swaraj announced in the House that her party will bring a strong Lokpal and Lokayukta in states on the Uttarakhand model (if voted to power).

On the issue of bringing CBI within Lokpal’s ambit, Sibal said nobody could agree to the BJP suggestion and alleged that when in power it praises the investigating agency but when in opposition it finds fault with it.

“Corruption cannot be fought by Lokpal alone. It is just a means....," Sibal said.

He praised Swaraj as a “marvelous orator" but lamented that her “ideology is to destruct".

“You do not want to fight corruption but embrace it when in power," Sibal said.

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