In yet another twist, the controversial Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill was on Monday referred to the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha, further delaying the setting up of the anti-graft ombudsman which has been hanging fire for 42 years.
The bill, on which debate had remained inconclusive in the Rajya Sabha during the last Winter Session, was referred to the Select Committee through a motion soon after Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy moved it for consideration and passage.
Interestingly, the motion for referring the bill to the Select Committee was moved initially by Samajwadi Party member Naresh Agrawal.
This was strongly objected to by Bharatiya Janata Party, Left parties and the Bahujan Samaj Party, with their members arguing that only the minister concerned could move such a motion and accusing the ruling coalition of "using the shoulder" of "friendly opposition" party.
After high drama marked by arguments and counter-arguments over whether rules permitted any other member to move such a motion, the government yielded and the motion was moved by Narayanasamy which was immediately passed by voice vote.
He said the 15-member committee would have to submit its report by the first day of the last week of Monsoon Session.
While moving the bill, the minister said differences on it had been narrowed down after consultations with various parties.
He said the government proposed to bring lower bureaucracy under the purview of Lokpal which will have investigating and prosecution wing. Besides, Central Vigilance Commissioner will monitor investigations by the Central Bureau of Investigation referred to it by the Lokpal.
There will be provisions for attachment of properties and time-frame for investigations.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was witness to the high drama ahead of the bill being referred to the Select Committee of the Upper House.
Questioning the sincerity of the government, Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said, "I urge the prime minister and the government to be upfront and forthright and say do we want a Lokpal or we don't."
He also questioned the government's intentions in bringing the bill a day before the session ends, even when it had enough time to consult the opposition. "We have given our views formally at the all-party meeting and even informally," he said.
Saying "the credibility of Parliamentary institution now is at stake", Jaitley said the whole nation was looking at them. "We want and the country wants that the government comes out clearly on this issue".
The government also came under sharp attack from BSP, with Mayawati agreeing with the Leader of Opposition on the government's intention and asked it to come out with a proper proposal for passing the bill.
"This is your weakness and you are shirking your responsibility," she said, despite expressing commitment for the bill it was delaying it on one pretext or the other.
She said the bill must be not passed in haste and be done only after proper discussion with all parties.
Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) also questioned the amendment motion to send the Bill to Select Committee coming from a Samajwadi Party member instead of the minister incharge.
Yechury, however, asked the government to include private corporates under the purview of Lokpal saying, "You are not putting a check on demand side of corruption and are not putting a check on the supply side of corruption."
During the heated debate over the issue, Rashtriya Janata Dal whose member was instrumental in stalling passage of the bill in the last Winter Session by a tearing its copy, questioned the need for having a Lokpal.
Ramkripal Yadav and Prem Chand Gupta (both RJD) felt left out as no member from smaller parties like RJD found a place in the proposed 15-member Select Committee to which the bill has been referred.
The members of the Select Committee proposed by the government are Shantaram Naik, Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Shadi Lal Batra (all Cong), Arun Jaitley, Rajiv Pratap Rudy,
Bhupendra Yadav (all BJP), K N Balagopal (CPI-M), Shivanand Tiwari (JD-U), Tiruchi Shiva (DMK), Satish Mishra (BSP), D Bandyopadhyay (TMC), Ramgopal Yadav (SP), D P Tripathi (NCP), V Maitreyan (AIADMK) and A K Ganguly (Nom).
Incidentally, the names of members suggested by the government were the same as those proposed by Samajwadi Party member Naresh Agrawal.
The heated discussion also saw P J Kurien, who was in the chair, losing his cool when Maya Singh (BJP) pointed fingers at the chair saying the chair and the ruling party together scuttled the Lokpal bill. "The chair has not justice to us this time also," she said.
Kurien reacted sharply at this, saying he did not bend rules. "I have always allowed members to speak after the minister's reply...Therefore to allege like that, it is unfair...This kind of allegation is not right."
Telugu Desam Party and Asom Gana Parishad members also raised objections on SP moving the amendment and proposing names of Select Committee members.
Members also raised serious questions on whether any member can bring a motion under the rules, as moved by Agrawal. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and Kurien pointed out that any member can do so, but opposition members insisted that it can be done through an amendment.
"Where is the amendment? Without a motion, you are talking of an amendment...Let Agrawal move an amendment," Yechury said.