Lokpal bill finally in parliament, tough ride ahead

New Delhi: The government Thursday finally tabled in parliament the much-debated Lokpal bill to combat corruption, with the Prime Minister and most of the bureaucracy under its fold. But the road ahead seemed bumpy with Anna Hazare trashing it as weak and political parties sharply divided on its efficacy.

The government also introduced a separate bill to amend the constitution to confer constitutional status to the proposed institution here and in states. This would need separate two-thirds backing in both houses which the ruling coalition does not have.

The two bills would be taken up for debate in the Lok Sabha on December 27 and will be tabled in the Rajya Sabha. Both houses meet from December 27-29 to discuss the proposed Lokpal, an issue which has rocked the country for months.

“The (Lokpal) bill proposes to establish autonomous and independent institutions,” according to the proposed legislation.

These shall have powers to hold a preliminary inquiry, leading to investigation and prosecution of offences of complaints under any law for checking corruption.

The Prime Minister will be under the purview of the nine-member Lokpal, but with riders.

No inquiry can be held against a Prime Minister if corruption charges relate to international relations, external and internal security, public order, atomic energy and space.

Hazare, whose campaign for an effective Lokpal since April has made him a household name, has been insisting on: bringing the Prime Minister, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and all bureaucrats under the ombudsman, Citizens Charter in government offices, and Lokayuktas for all states.

With the government not in agreement, and even a section of the political establishment having different views, it was clear Thursday that Team Anna was poised for a showdown with the authorities.

According to the bill, 50 per cent of Lokpal members shall be from tribes, Dalits, Other Backward Classes (OBC), minorities and women.

The government appeared to have done a flip-flop on the inclusion of minorities — a point opposed bitterly by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but which many smaller parties demanded.

The government hurriedly brought a corrigendum to the bill to include the provision for minorities, leading to more protests in the house.

Although the Lokpal has jurisdiction over all categories of government employees, investigation is to be done by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) if they are charged with corruption.

In finalising the legislation, the government tried to accommodate various views. But it failed to cut ice with most political parties and with an aggressive Hazare, who dismissed the legislation as ‘weak’.

Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal said the bill was ‘very dangerous’ as it would make the ombudsman a government puppet. He objected to the government wielding administrative control over the Lokpal.

BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said the bill violated ‘federal principles’ as it amounted to dictating states to establish Lokayuktas.

“We are disappointed. This is unconstitutional,” she said of the demand for more than 50 per cent quota in Lokpal and Lokayuktas.

Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee put up a spirited defence, denying that the government under pressure.

“It is not (in) undue haste,” Mukherjee said, reminding the house of its August 27 resolution to raise an effective Lokpal.

He said questions about constitutional validity of the quota could be decided by the judiciary.

The Shiv Sena, the RJD, Communist Party of India, Bahujan Samaj Party, the AIADMK and Biju Janata Dal were among those who felt the government was bending to Hazare’s street pressure. Lalu Prasad denounced Anna.