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Rajya Sabha passes Lokpal Bill, Lok Sabha to consider it Wednesday

After abortive attempts for about 40 years, an across-the-board consensus on Tuesday saw the landmark Lokpal Bill being pushed through successfully in the Rajya Sabha.

New Delhi: After abortive attempts for about 40 years, an across-the-board consensus on Tuesday saw the landmark Lokpal Bill being pushed through successfully in the Rajya Sabha, marking a step forward in the creation of an anti- corruption ombudsman.

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, which has been pending in the House for the last two years, was approved by voice vote after a five-hour debate, almost a year after it was stuck when about to be passed in the House.

Also Read: Rajya Sabha passes Lokpal Bill: As it happened

The government push to the Bill, which got support from the main opposition BJP, came close on the heels of the Congress drubbing in the assembly elections, rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the ongoing fast by Anna Hazare, who has been campaigning for a strong Lokpal.

Samajwadi Party, a strong opponent to the creation of Lokpal, boycotted the House proceedings after staging a walkout soon after it took up the bill`s consideration.

The Bill, aimed at tackling the menace of corruption, brings under its purview the Prime Minister with certain safeguards, Ministers and MPs besides government servants.

Law Minister Kapil Sibal, who moved the bill and later piloted it, said it was a "historic" day and hoped that all states would pass similar legislations to set up Lokayuktas modelled on this bill.

Asking parties to rise above political considerations, he said never before such a bill had been debated in public so long like the present measure.

Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley, while supporting the Bill, said he was happy that the government had accepted all the changes in "this changed environment", a taunt at the Congress drubbing in the assembly elections.

The Bill, which was already passed by the Lok Sabha in December 2011, will go back to the Lower House tomorrow as it has undergone a number of changes with official amendments.

The first legislative attempt at creating an ombudsman was
made in the 1960s and ever since subsequent attempts had never taken off.

A Parliamentary Select Committee recommended several amendments to the measure to make it widely acceptable among political parties before the legislation came back to the Rajya Sabha.

Among the amendments accepted by the government are delinking of the mandatory creation of Lokayuktas by the state governments, one of the provisions which had stalled the passage of the bill in December 2011.

Sibal said the law alone would not eliminate corruption but it could help deal with those who are corrupt.

On the issue of bringing the Prime Minister under the purview of the new law, he said the overall consensus was in this favour although there were some "discordant individual views" disfavouring it.

Government accepted all but three recommendations of the Select Committee.

The accepted recommendations included not transferring a CBI official investigating a case referred by the Lokpal.

The selection process of the Lokpal has also been changed. It now provides for appointment of the Lokpal by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader in Opposition in Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India, besides an eminent jurist appointed by the President on their recommendation.

Among the recommendations not accepted by the government was an accused public servant should not be given any chance to present his or her view before initiation of investigation.

The government said the accused official should be given
a chance to be heard before initiation of formal investigation but the "suspense" element would be maintained in case of search and seizure.

CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury had moved an amendment to bring public-private-partnership (PPP) projects but it was defeated overwhelmingly by 151 against 19 votes.

The passage of the Bill had become a mere formality as almost all parties, except SP, were in support.

The urgency of pushing the Bill is seen in the context of the drubbing Congress faced in the just-held Delhi assembly polls at the hands of Aam Aadmi Party whose main plank was the enactment of Lokpal.

Sibal sought to allay any apprehension over the new measure, saying there will be no element of government interference in investigation that would be carried out against corruption under the Lokpal.

"I don`t think it is time to laugh or snigger... It is time for us to rise to the occasion," said Sibal, who piloted the Bill in place of Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy who could not attend the proceedings because of his wife`s illness.

He said the government intended to bring more legislations like Prevention of Corruption Bill to fight corruption and they could be passed if the House functions properly.

Holding that there is a lot of scope for improvement in this Lokpal Bill, Jaitley objected to the provision of religious-based appointments in Lokpal, saying such kind of reservations were not permitted by the Constitution.

Sibal, however, said the provision was in tune with the Constitution.

Defending the inclusion of judges in the Lokpal panel, Sibal said it was done as "complex legal" issues are involved. Lawmakers cannot be part of it as it involves conflict of interest, he said.

The government also decided to exempt only such bodies or authorities established, constituted or appointed by or under any Central or State or Provincial Act providing for administration of public religious or charitable trusts or endowments or societies for religious or charitable purposes registered under the Societies Registration Act.

The Select Committee had recommended exclusion of bodies and institutions receiving donations from the public from the purview of Lokpal.

The government decided not to accept it and seek an official amendment in the Bill as reported by the Select Committee.

The Committee recommended that in clause 20(2) of the Bill, the seeking of comments from the public servant during the preliminary inquiry should not be mandatory and has accordingly suggested the addition of the word "may" in the said clause.

The government opposed this arguing that affording of an opportunity to the public servant and to the government/ competent authority at this stage, would help clear doubts in several cases and would substantially reduce the number of cases going for regular investigation.

The Select Committee recommended that the power to grant sanction for prosecution of public servants could be shifted to the Lokpal in place of the Government.

It also recommended that Lokpal may be required to seek comments of the competent authority and the public servant before taking such decision. Government decided to accept this recommendation.

From Zee News

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