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Stormy start to Lokpal Bill debate in Lok Sabha

Last updated on: December 27, 2011 20:51 IST

Stormy start to Lokpal Bill debate in Lok Sabha

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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.

Moving the Bill for consideration, Minister for Personnel V Narayanasamy asserted the supremacy of Parliament saying "we need to bow our heads to this House only and not before anyone else", apparently referring to Anna Hazare.

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, Rashtriya Janata Dal 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, All India Anna Dravida Munetra Kazhagam and Bharatiya Janata Party 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.

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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 pPrime minister in its purview. "You have brought the PM 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 Right To Information.

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.

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Tags: Bill , BJP , CBI , House , Kapil Sibal

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Stormy start to Lokpal Bill debate in Lok Sabha

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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.

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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 Communist Party of India-Marxist-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 Central Vigilance Commission and the Election Commission.

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".

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Tags: Sibal , BJP , Bill , Lokayukta , Lokpal

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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.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav asked the government to accept the amendments moved by the Opposition to ensure a strong Lokpal.

Dubbing the government version of the Lokpal bill as weak, he said that not accepting the opposition demands will lead to allegations that the anti-corruption ombudsman is under government control, as is the case with the CBI.

The whole country is thinking how to end corruption and is hoping this bill will end corruption. But there is only one way, that is to accept the amendments that are being  brought," Yadav said.

He said that while drafting the Lokpal Bill, the government has only taken care of its interests and not that of the people. Yadav wanted the reports of the investigations carried out by the Lokpal to be handed over to the courts directly, without submitting the same to the government.

He also pitched for complete autonomy to the CVC and the CBI, particularly in matters related to transfers and budget.

Yadav said in the present form the Bill does not seek to grant autonomy to Lokpal. Dara Singh Chauhan (Bahujan Samaj Party) wanted the CBI to be under the control of the Lokpal to free the investigation agency from the pulls and pressures of politics.

He said that the CBI had been misused by the governments at the Centre to pursue political goals. On the issue of reservation for minority on the Lokpal panel, Chauhan said the BSP will never support any move that seeks to ignore the Muslim community.

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He said the Lokpal Bill in its current form undermines the federal structure as envisaged in the Constitution. The enactment of the Lokayukta should be left to the states, Chauhan said.

Chauhan said if the government is keen on bringing a strong Lokpal Bill, the BSP is in favour of it and would support it. "If you will bring a strong Lokpal Bill, include lower bureaucracy in its ambit, include CBI under it, the BSP will definitely support it. Otherwise we will oppose it," he said.

Sharad Yadav (Janata Dal-United) said it was wrong to paint every politician and bureaucrat corrupt.

"Whatever development this country has seen in the last 63 years was because of bureaucrats and politicians," he said.

Apparently referring to Hazare's agitation, Yadav said "who is in this agitation? Are there any tribals, dalits, backward classes, farmers or minorities represented? Who are these people? Whom are you scared of?"

The National Democratic Alliance convenor said that the Bill, in its current form, was a "dacoity" on the rights of the states. "We reject this. Are you saying that the state governments do not function," he asked.

Yadav said the government should take some bold decisions on the Lokpal Bill.

Recalling Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee's reply to Swaraj last week, he said, "I can understand the pain he is going through".

It appeared that he was trying to get rid of some problem. Poor old man, is troubled and fed up by this overload but there is no other person in the Congress...He is tired and we also and others have troubled him," Yadav said.

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He said one issue of Lokpal has overtaken all other serious matters like 2G, JPC, CWG, Air India, CAG reports. "In the Commonwealth Games, only Suresh Kalmadi has been jailed. He is just the tail of the elephant. The elephant is roaming free outside," he said.

Supporting a strong Lokpal, CPI-M leader Basudeb Acharia said the Lokpal should be accountable to both Parliament and Supreme Court.

"We are making such an institution, which will not have any accountability. We don't want such an institution. That's why we raised in the all party meeting that Lokpal should be accountable. They should be accountable to Parliament and the Supreme Court. The Lokpal should be accountable," he said.

He alleged that the CBI was being "misused" for political purposes but said he was not in favour of giving complete autonomy to CBI. "It is because CBI should be accountable to somebody," Acharia said.

He alleged that the first UPA Government used CBI against Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav to get his support in confidence vote when the Left parties pulled out protesting against the India-US civil nuclear deal.

He also said corporate houses should also be brought under the ambit of Lokpal in the wake of allegations that they are favoured through illegal way by Government agencies even for digging out the country's mineral wealth.

"We have seen how our mineral wealth has been plundered like iron ore and other resources. This is because of the neo-liberal policy, which is being pursued by this Government for the last two decades. I would like to know whether Lokpal will also enquire into that aspect of the corruption which is happening in our country," he said.

Observing that members were trying to create a "super power" in the form of Lokpal, Anant Geete (Shiv Sena) said the highest post of Prime Minister should not be brought under its ambit and blamed MPs for not putting forward their honest views on the issue.

"The dignity of chair of prime minister should not be compromised," he said, and warned that if the bill is hurriedly passed, "you are creating trouble for yourself."

"What kind of institution we are creating. Why are you compromising the position of the PM?" he asked.

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Supporting Geete, Supriya Sule (Nationalist Congress Party) said prime minister should not be brought under the ambit of Lokpal.

"I personally feel the same thing - my party may not agree with what I say. But I think I am going to defend myself when I say I agree with the Shiv Sena openly that I would not like my prime minister to be accountable to anybody because we are very proud of him and we do not want him to be under Lokpal," she said.

"...But, it is the leadership quality of this gentleman, who happens to be in politics, who himself insisted that he wants to be under the Lokpal when all of us emotionally do not feel that and it has to be beyond the barriers. But he insists on this and, I think, that is where this whole Bill is going.

"So the Lokpal may not be the solution to all our problems but, at least, it is a beginning to stopping, eradicating and looking at corruption as a serious cause and looking at how we can address it. So, I think the whole sense of the House is that we need a Lokpal. You want a stronger one. Yes, we are for a stronger one," she said.

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