Amid the government’s last ditch efforts to enlist support for the Lokpal Bill in the Rajya Sabha, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday met leaders of parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal to persuade them to give up their opposition.
Mr. Mukherjee, along with Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal and HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, held meetings with BSP leader Satish C. Mishra and RJD chief Lalu Prasad as the debate was underway in the Rajya Sabha.
The BSP has 18 members and RJD four in the 243-member House.
Sources said Mr. Mishra and Mr. Prasad were asked about the stand of their parties on the Lokpal Bill and how they would vote.
Mr. Mishra told Mr. Mukherjee that the BSP was opposed to Lokayukta provision as it goes against the sprit of federalism.
The government side told him that it would get back, the sources said.
The BSP remained firm on its opposition to the clauses on Lokayukta although it has not moved any amendment.
There were indications that BSP members would not walk out.
Meanwhile, in indications of further problems for the government, two Congress members — P. Kannan and Vijay Darda — were not present. The Congress has 71 members, altogether.
Earlier in the day, the government on Thursday tabled a Bill in the Rajya Sabha, moving a step further towards enactment of a historic law for setting up a Lokpal. But it was rejected by the Opposition as “constitutionally vulnerable“.
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill 2011, already passed by the Lok Sabha, was moved for consideration by Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs V. Narayanasamy amid questions over its passage in view of stiff opposition by various parties, including United Progressive Alliance ally Trinamool Congress. The UPA does not enjoy a majority in the Upper House.
Pushing for passage of the crucial Bill, Mr. Narayanasamy said it “is in line with the sense of the House” expressed on August 27, 2011.
BJP opposes Bill
Initiating the debate, Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley slammed the Bill saying it would lead to “constitutional havoc” as the Centre would be encouraged to “usurp” rights of States through the provision of setting up of Lokayuktas.
The BJP leader also opposed the minority quota in the Lokpal bench, inclusion of NGOs and keeping the Central Bureau of Investigation out of the purview of the ombudsman.
“If you are creating history, let us not create bad history. We will be leaving a lot of task for the next generation to do,” he said.
He made it clear the Bharatiya Janata Party would not support the Bill in the present form. “Please accept amendments that the colleagues have moved,” he said.
Abhishek M. Singhvi (Congress) rejected Mr. Jaitley’s contentions, saying that the BJP was creating fear psychosis over the issue of NGOs under the purview of the ombudsman.
Seeking to drive a wedge between the UPA coalition partners, Mr. Jaitley encouraged the Trinamool Congress by saying that its opposition to various provisions of the Bill was correct.
Holding that one does not have to demolish federalism in the fight against corruption, he said, “That is why the Trinamool Congress is right.”
Jaitley, Singhvi exchange barbs
During the debate, which saw exchange of barbs between Mr. Jaitley and Mr. Singhvi, the Congress member rejected opposition’s stand on reservation, saying the Bill does not have any provision for quota and only talks about ensuring representation from diverse sections of the society.
He accused the BJP of giving an “advanced premature certificate of unconstitutionality“.
He said the Lokpal Bill does not cover all private trusts but only those, which receive public donations above a certain amount.
Strongly batting for Constitutional status to the Lokpal, Mr. Singhvi attacked the BJP saying it was opposing the Bill only for the sake of it.
He told Mr. Jaitley that his argument that the Bill was a Constitutional cocktail does not have any punch.
Rejecting charges of assault on federalism, the Congress MP said Parliament has the power to make laws for whole of the country or for any part.
He said the Bill for the first time separates prosecution and investigative powers, abolishes the practice of seeking sanctions before prosecution of public servants and gives Lokpal greater control of the CBI even though it does not bring the agency directly under the Lokpal.
Holding that government’s approach is that of favouring mutual checks and balances, Mr. Singhvi said it wanted to maintain equilibrium of the holy trinity of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
Asking the Opposition to be honest in its conviction, the he accused it of using conditionalities and excuses to avoid supporting the Bill.
Criticising the Opposition’s suggestions on Lokpal, Mr. Singhvi said their idea is to create a behemoth before which even the Prime Minister and his office will look like “pygmies” and also create a breeding ground for “big ticket corruption“.
He said the BJP’s opposition to the Bill was just to score brownie points with an eye on the forthcoming assembly polls.
The Congress leader vehemently denied that the Bill marks any deviation from the sense of the House on Lokpal issue to which the government had agreed in the Monsoon Session.
Urging the Opposition to support the government on the issue, he said “history will not forgive you (the Opposition)” if they do not support the Bill.
Mr. Singhvi said a slew of anti-corruption legislations have been made during the UPA regime.
No round-robin probes: Jaitley
Mr. Jaitley earlier said the investigation mechanism proposed in the Bill is such that a probe can never be completed.
“Criminal investigations are never done in a round-robin (manner),” he said, adding that Opposition’s demand was just to make the CBI an impartial investigating agency.
He said Chairman of Lokpal should be included in the panel to select CBI director.
The Opposition Leader said the government has deliberately brought a law which is constitutionally vulnerable.
“You want to kill the Lokpal when it is still in the womb ...lets not create a bad history,” Mr. Jaitley said adding the amendments proposed by Opposition would remove the deficiencies in the Bill.
“We will pass a Lokpal, (but) not your Lokpal,” he said.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury said the spirit of the Constitution must be kept in mind while framing the law and added that the government should accept the amendments to make a stronger Lokpal Bill.
'Congress does not want a strong Lokpal'
Bahujan Samaj Party member S.C. Mishra also criticised the Bill for keeping the CBI under government control and said the agency is used to settle political scores. He claimed that cases against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati were an example of such misuse.
He said the reservation for minorities in the Lokpal bench and search committee was done under pressure as the Congress treats minorities only as “vote-minting machine“.
Amidst protest from Congress members, he said it was a “day of misery” for the ruling dispensation and counselled them to listen patiently to the criticism.
S.C. Mishra said through the Bill, the Government wants to take away the legislative power of state governments and said the Centre could do so only if emergency was imposed in all the States.
“The Centre should tell us if they are going to do so,” he demanded.
He alleged that the Congress “deliberately and intentionally” did not want a strong Lokpal and that is why created such a law which is “unconstitutional” and would be struck down by a court of law.
Mr. Mishra said the Government should not follow orders from somebody to frame laws as the bill seeking constitutional amendment has already been defeated in the Lok Sabha.
Four objections from CPI(M)
Mr. Yechury said his party has four major objections to the bill including setting up of Lokayukta in states, investigation agency and inclusion of corporates and foreign—funded NGOs under the new proposed anti—corruption body.
When Minister of State in the PMO V. Narayanasamy said the opposition leaders were saying different things in Parliament and at Anna Hazare’s meeting, Yechury said his party did not believe in changing stances.
“We have not raised the issue of your ministers sitting in yoga posture with a saffron robed guru and you should not say such things,” he said, in an apparent reference to Yoga Guru Ramdev.
Without naming Trinamool Congress, the CPI(M) leader took a dig at the party saying that certain parties in the Government were now opposing some clauses of the bill. “It would have been better if they had taken up this in the Cabinet...this situation would not have arisen,” he said.
Shivanand Tiwari (JD-U) termed the bill as "toothless" and said that it has been drafted in a hurry.
He also asked the government to take measures to stop inequality, which might help it to end corruption.
DMK, NCP voice support
Supporting the bill, Tiruchi Siva (DMK) said absence of a strong legislation might be one of the reasons why corruption has taken deep roots in India.
"Transparency in every level could curtail corruption," he said, adding, his party would not allow any breach in the states' autonomy.
"I support the Bill on behalf of DMK. However, we need an explanation from the government. We are concerned to some extent. The Centre should not encroach upon or trespass into the territory of the States," Mr. Siva said.
Extending support to the bill, NCP, a constituent of UPA, appealed to the opposition to "rectify" the mistake it had committed in the Lok Sabha (by opposing it) and help pass it in the Upper House.
"The Lokpal Bill is well considered and will prove a milestone in combating corruption in the country," NCP member
Tariq Anwar said, adding if any lacunae is found in future, amendments could be brought.
Omission of Group C employees
Opposing the bill, Pyarimohan Mohapatra (BJD) said it affects the federal structure of the democracy.
He questioned omission of CBI and Group C and D officials in the bill, which he said the government is claiming as a "strong law to fight corruption."
He said it seems the entire debate on Lokpal Bill is centered around assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and it is forcing the parties to take a stand which is not necessarily based on merit.
TMC opposes Lokayukta clause
Sukhendu Sekhar Roy (Trinamool) said despite being part of UPA government his party is opposing the Bill as it "threatens" the federal structure of the country.
"Our leader Mamata Banerjee has always said that whenever there is any violation of rights of state, we must oppose it tooth and nail," Mr. Roy said.
The TMC member said his party demands that chapter III should be deleted as it threatens the federal character of democracy.
He, however, said TMC is opposing the bill on merit and the party did not join the "jamboree outside" where 'Vaampanthi' (Left) and 'Rampanthi' (BJP-RSS) joined hands.
Ramgopal Yadav (SP) said his party was opposing the bill because it kept CBI out of it and also brought former MPs within its purview.
He said his party is in favour of including Leader of Opposition in the panel for selection of Lokpal.