Delhi/Mumbai: With the UPA government hardening its stand and justifying its version of the anti-graft legislation and the Opposition calling for its withdrawal, the Parliament on Tuesday witnessed a fierce debate on the controversial Lokpal Bill.
The debate on the Lokpal Bill coincides with noted social worker Anna Hazare’s three-day fast in Mumbai to press for a strong anti-graft legislation.
Minister of State in PMO V Narayanasamy moved the Lokpal Bill for debate in Lok Sabha.
Reading out the salient features of the Lokpal Bill and what all the government has done so far, Narayanasamy said, “Those who oppose the format of the bill have not read the contents and the provision of the Bill.”
Assuring that the government’s Lokpal Bill will prove to be an effective tool in fighting corruption, the minister said, “We have involved all major stake holders including the civil society in drafting the bill.”
Ahead of the debate, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal appealed to parties not to move amendments but to cooperate in the passage of the Bill.
Bansal said the legislation to accord Constitutional status to the ombudsman, which requires a special majority for passage, would be put to vote only if it has the required support.
Seeking cross-party support, Bansal said law-making was a dynamic process and changes can be made in the legislation subsequently.
Congress MPs including Kapil Sibal, Sandeep Dikshit, Meenakshi Natrajan and others will lead the government’s side during the debate. Prime Minister is also likely to make a statement on the issue in the Lok Sabha.
Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj opened the debate on behalf of the opposition.
While government had appealed to the members to join them in passing the anti-graft legislation, the opposition parties said they would move amendments on key points of contention.
The main opposition party, the BJP, is seeking 37 amendments in the Bill that the government has tabled, during today`s debate; the CPM at least 11. While the government has the numbers for now in the Lok Sabha, passing the Bill in the Rajya Sabha won`t be easy.
Ahead of the debate in the Lok Sabha, the government said it was aware of some sticking points, including those raised by Anna Hazare, but asserted the final shape of the legislation would be decided by Parliament.
With numbers crucial for the passage of the bill, the Congress issued a whip to its members to be present during the debate and requested its United Progressive Alliance (UPA) allies to issue similar directives to their members.
However, there appears a clear lack of consensus on provisions relating to investigative powers of Lokpal, bringing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under its purview, and setting up of Lokayuktas in states.
The government needs support of parties outside the UPA in its plans to give the anti-corruption ombudsman a constitutional status.
The Winter Session has been extended to Dec 27-29 to enable the two houses to pass the Lokpal bill.
Congress leaders have met alliance partners to mobilise support for the three bills. They said that the stance of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), who support the UPA from outside, will be crucial.
The Congress will also need support of opposition parties to be able to achieve its goal of giving constitutional status to Lokpal, an idea supported by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
The BJP has expressed objections to provision on reservation for minorities in the bill. The party is also keen on investigative powers for the Lokpal and functional independence of the CBI.
Party leaders said provisions relating to Lokayukta will impinge on powers of states which have already enacted such legislations.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Brinda Karat said the party would move amendments to the "weak" and "deeply flawed" bill.
Party MP Sitaram Yechury referred to the protest by Team Anna and said the bill finally passed by Parliament should be respected.