Lok Sabha approves amendment to Lokpal Act for deferring asset filing

The amendment pertains to Section 44 of the Lokpal Act which deals with declaration of assets and provision of making the assets public.

New Delhi: The Lok Sabha on Wednesday approved an amendment to the Lokpal Act to allow extension to 50 lakh central government employees and NGOs receiving government funds in the deadline for filing asset declaration beyond July 31.

While the House provided immediate relief by approving the amendment to Section 44 of the Act, the provision will be examined in detail by a Parliamentary Standing Committee which will submit its report before next session of Parliament.

Moving the amendment for consideration, Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh said the government has received representations from Members of Parliament and other stakeholders and on July 25 a delegation of MPs had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding deletion of the provision.

The amendment pertains to Section 44 of the Lokpal Act which deals with declaration of assets and provision of making the assets public, he said.

"Till the present impasse is overcome, the deadline with regard to government servants can be deferred," Singh said as he moved amendments to the Act.

Singh said the Standing Committee would give its recommendation before the next session of Parliament and till then the deadline for declaration of assets of public servants and NGOs can be deferred.

As per the rules notified under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013, every public servant shall file declaration, information and annual returns pertaining to his assets and liabilities as well as for his spouse and dependent children on March 31 every year or on or before July 31 of that year.

In April, the government had extended the date of filing returns by public servants from April 15 to July 31. This is the fifth extension in the deadline since the Act came into force in January 2014.

As per rules, organisations receiving more than Rs 1 crore in government grants and donations above Rs 10 lakh from abroad fall under the ambit of Lokpal.

"Since this law was framed by the Standing Committee, the same (amendment) has to go to Standing Committee. Government is open to the idea of of amending the law but the same can be done after taking into account the recommendations of Standing Committee. The Standing Committee is seized of the matter and I hope that the Standing Committee will give report before next session," Singh said while referring it to the Committee.

The amendment to the Lokpal Act 2013 was later passed by a voice vote.

Curiously, the bill, which was not initially listed in the business of the day, was introduced by Singh some time after the House took up the Zero Hour. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan asked the Minister to introduce the bill, which was added to the order paper later.

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge supported government's move of introducing the bill, saying there are no two opinions that the amendments are urgent.

He, however, said the provisions of the Act should not be diluted as common people would say that MPs came together to dilute the Lokpal Act.

"Certainly it is not the intention or design to dilute the provision of Act. We are ready to make it even more stringent. We are just giving an opportunity for another thought to it," Jitendra Singh said.

He said if the Standing Committee rules out the proposition, then the government will not press for it.

As CPI(M) member Mohd Salim and TMC member Kalyan Banerjee raised objections to the hurried way in which the amendments to the Bill was sought to be passed, the minister sought to assuage their concerns, saying the government was only trying to facilitate effective implementation of the Act.

"Government is not against Lokpal Bill, government is not against eradication of corruption. That is not the message or intention," Singh said, adding Section 44 has certainly created urgency to get the amendments passed before July 31 as the government cannot do it on its own.

Kalyan Banerjee (TMC) sought to know from the government why it was "favouring" NGOs by exempting them from filing asset declaration, saying very few of the NGOs are engaged in charitable purpose.

He also asked the government not to dilute the provisions of the Act.

Singh replied: "It is not my NGO, or your NGO or siding with NGO. We have NGOs and trusts running media houses... We are not going to spare or bail out any NGOs."

As Singh sought to get the support from the members, Md Salim (CPIM) sought to know from the Minister who were the MPs in the delegation who met Modi on July 25.

"The Minister seeks to pass this bill in a hurry when he had not even listed this important bill in the List of Business or Supplementary Business" and this is "wrong Parliamentary practice", Salim said, as he sought to know the urgency behind the bill passage.

Sugata Bose (TMC) appreciated the government, saying it was a "sensible" move and suggested that public servants be properly defined in the bill.

Parliament had earlier in December 2014 passed amendments to the Lokpal and Lakoyukta Act changing the word Leader of Opposition with Leader of largest opposition party.