In a bid to evolve consensus on the contentious provisions of the Lokpal Bill, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has convened a meeting of the floor leaders of the Rajya Sabha for Friday.
After the fiasco in the last session, the government is not in favour of putting the Bill to vote without getting support of the parties to ensure its smooth passage in the Upper House.
The Bill was deferred in the last session on the plea that a large number of amendments had been moved by several members, including those from the Trinamool Congress. The Opposition charged the government with running away from Parliament, faced with the prospect of its version of the Bill getting adopted.
Last week, at the insistence of the Opposition, the government gave a commitment in the Rajya Sabha that it would take up the Lokpal Bill once the debate on the motion of thanks to the President's address to the joint session of Parliament and the discussion on the Railway and Union budgets were completed.
Given the divergence of views, it would be an uphill task for the government to get support of majority of the parties. In the last session, notice had been given for as many as 187 amendments.
The Congress' ally, the Trinamool Congress, the Biju Janata Dal and the Shiromani Akali Dal had moved amendments for deletion of the entire Part III of the Bill on establishment of Lokayuktas.
Another contentious amendment by the Opposition pertains to the investigative powers of the Lokpal. The government is vehemently opposed to the Opposition proposal to place the CBI within the jurisdiction of the Lokpal. In turn, the Opposition has suggested creation of a separate investigation wing of the Lokpal.
Last week, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said the amendments moved in the Upper House the previous session lapsed after it was prorogued and members started giving amendments afresh.
“One member has moved some amendments. I believe some others may also do so. Even the government will have to move amendments afresh. These will have to be examined before taking them up for discussion,” he said.
Among the major amendments were the ones given by the BJP for deletion of the words “not less than” 50 per cent of the members of the Lokpal belonging to the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled tribes, the Other Backward Classes, minorities and women in Clause 3.
The party also asked for deletion of the word ‘minorities' in Clause 3 and inclusion of the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha on the Selection Committee in Clause 4. It wanted the Lokpal to appoint his secretary and not to make the selection from a panel given by the government
The CPI(M) moved an amendment for replacing an eminent jurist on the Selection Committee with “an eminent person to be nominated by the Chief Election Commissioner, the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Union Public Service Commission.”
The party also wanted the inquiry wing under the Lokpal replaced with the “Investigation Wing” with the Centre providing officers and staff under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Lokpal as decided in consultation with the Lokpal.
Another CPI(M) amendment was for inclusion within the ambit of the Lokpal “any corporate body, its promoters, its officers including Director against whom there is a complaint of corruption in relation to grant of government licence, lease, contract, agreement or any other action to influence government policy through corrupt means.”
The party wanted the Lokpal to take suo motu action on a compliant of corruption.
The Communist Party of India gave amendments for deletion of the clause granting immunity to the Prime Minister in cases of corruption in relation to the “public order.” Under the Chapter ‘Jurisdiction for Inquiry,' the party gave an amendment for inclusion of the director, manager, secretary or other officer of a “non-governmental organisation” receiving government funds or foreign funds in excess of Rs. 10 lakh.
The Samajwadi Party gave an amendment for inclusion of the Leader of the Opposition on the Selection Committee, inclusion of NGOs and the media within the jurisdiction of the Lokpal, submission of an investigation report to the “appropriate court,” not the Lokpal. The appointment of the chairperson and members of the Lokayukta should include an eminent jurist, not nominated by the Governor but recommended by a “collegium of three seniormost judges of the High Court.”