New Delhi: The much-anticipated Lokpal Bill, which aims at setting up an anti-corruption watchdog in the country, was referred to the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha on Monday.
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.
The motion for the Lokpal Bill to be referred to the Select Committee seeking its suggestions on its key provisions was moved by Samajwadi Party MP, Naresh Agarwal.
This was strongly objected to by BJP, Left parties and BSP, 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, CVC will monitor investigations by the CBI referred to it by the Lokpal.
Earlier, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley said that the credibility of Parliament was at stake. He lamented that the bill had been tossed around for years now and reminded everyone that on December 22, 2011 ‘disturbance was caused and the Bill was delayed’.
“Do we want a Lokpal or don’t we want a Lokpal? The government has to take a call now. What do we do on the areas on which there are differences on the Bill? The country wants an answer rather than all these games being played,” the BJP leader said without mincing words.
Interestingly, BSP supremo Mayawati concurred with the BJP and slammed the government for letting an SP MP move the motion on the Bill today.
The Left also hit out at the government for camouflaging its intentions and resorting to backdoor tactics to stall a vote on the anti-corruption bill.
The chances of the Lokpal Bill to get a smooth sailing were expected to be slim in the Upper House as main opposition BJP and several other regional parties like Samajwadi Party and the RJD led by Lalu Prasad Yadav are strongly opposed to the current format of the bill.
In order to ensure smooth passage of the bill, senior Congress leaders V Narayanasamy and Rajiv Shukla met Arun Jaitly this morning. However, the meeting ended inconclusive.
The Budget Session of Parliament is ending tomorrow.
The UPA government is trying hard to build consensus over the bill and, if the sources are to be believed, the controversial Lokayukta clause, which calls for setting up a Lokayukta in each state, may be dropped.
As per the key amendments moved by the government to win the support of the Opposition, the states will now have the right to pass the bill in their own Assemblies.
The move will help pacify critics like Mamata Banerjee, Narendra Modi and several others, who have alleged that the Lokpal Bill, in its present format, violates the principles of federalism if it is imposed upon states.
Secondly, the process of removing a member of the Lokpal will now be initiated only if 100 MPs sign a petition supporting the cause. Earlier, any citizen could appeal for action against a member of the Lokpal.
Thirdly, the role of the CBI in investigating complaints of corruption has been modified slightly. Once the Lokpal receives a complaint from the public and accepts the complaint, it will forward the complaint to the CBI, which will investigate the complaint and then file a charge-sheet or closure report before the court.
The agency will inform the ombudsman about what it determines. The closure report or the findings of the investigation, according to the government's third amendment, will now be shared not just with the Lokpal but with the relevant court as well.
The equation between the CBI and the Lokpal has been one of the biggest bones of contention between the government and the Opposition. Parties like the BJP want the chief of the CBI to be picked by a committee, instead of by just the government - changes like this, they argue, will ensure the autonomy of the CBI.
With Agency Input
First Published: Monday, May 21, 2012, 18:35