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Updated: December 30, 2011 04:30 IST

Jaitley, Singhvi cross swords over Lokpal Bill

Gargi Parsai
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Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley speaks during the debate on Lokpal Bill in the House. Photo: PTI/TV Grab
PTI Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley speaks during the debate on Lokpal Bill in the House. Photo: PTI/TV Grab

A bid to usurp States' powers, says BJP. Do you want to pass the Bill or not, asks Congress

Legal luminaries from the Opposition and the treasury benches in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday battled it out on the constitutional validity of the provisions of the Lokpal Bill, particularly the clause on the Centre legislating for Lokayuktas in States. This, as it turned out, was a sore point not only with almost all Opposition parties but also with the United Progressive Alliance's ally, the Trinamool Congress.

As soon as Minister of State for Personnel V. Narayanasamy finished his introductory remarks after moving the Bill, Opposition members were on their feet demanding the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also the leader of the Upper House. This led to a brief adjournment.

Leading the Opposition attack, Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley said the Bill would lead to a “constitutional havoc” as the Centre would be encouraged to usurp the powers of the States through the provision for setting up the Lokayuktas.

Terming the Bill “half-hearted legislation,” Mr. Jaitley said the government strategy was to create a smokescreen by saying it was talking to civil society and then suddenly say it would give constitutional status to the Lokpal. “You wanted to create a phoney Lokpal and give it a constitutional status and say it will be a game changer. The game changer will not be a phoney institution but an effective institution.''

Responding to the charge that the BJP did not want a Lokpal law, he said the people of the country would decide which side wanted a weak law and which side wanted “an amended and strong” legislation. “Not only that, this will also be the test for UPA allies — are they only proclaiming or are they willing to strike?''

Charging the government with “assault on the federal structure” and creating a “constitutional cocktail” he said: “If setting up of the Lokayuktas is to be under the Concurrent List under Article 253, there is no provision for an option. First under Article 253 you want to enact a law that will dismantle the entire authority of the States in dealing with their own services. If you have the authority under the Concurrent List, then States do not have the authority. That means the 18 Lokayuktas in 18 States are all ultra vires. Constitutionally, the correct course would be to frame a law under Article 252 after obtaining resolution of two States.''

Objecting to the provisions in the Bill that give powers to government to “control appointments and [have a] removal mechanism,” Mr. Jaitley said there would always be the sword of Damocles on the Lokpal. “If it goes against the government, it can be suspended.”

Pointing out that most people supported social justice and affirmative action, he said the legal phraseology of reservation in the Lokpal was “extra-constitutional'' and designed to make this law “vulnerable.”

While reiterating the BJP's demand for autonomy to the Central Bureau of Investigation, he said Section 25 of the Bill needed to be amended where the power of administrative and financial control, superintendence and direction over the CBI should be given to the Lokpal.

He objected to the inclusion of non-governmental organisations, and other such institutions under the Lokpal, saying the government-controlled, government-appointed authority would be so intrusive that it would enter every area of even private life. “This is a revenge provision against civil society.”

Referring to the “sense of the House” resolution to bring a Citizens' Charter, and Group C and D employees under the Lokpal through a mechanism and creation of the Lokayuktas, he said Group C and D employees were to be under the Lokpal. But the Citizens' Charter (for time-bound implementation of government services) was taken out of the ambit of the Lokpal. “Are we going to subvert the institution before it is born?''

Mr. Jaitley said if the government accepted the amendments given by the BJP and other parties, the Bill could be passed.

‘Don't hide behind excuses'

Abhishek Singhvi (Congress) countered the BJP attack by asking the party if it was keen on passing the Bill. “The fundamental question is: do you want to pass the Lokpal Bill or not? It is no use putting a string of conditionalities. No use saying I want to pass a strong Bill after three months and refer it to the Standing Committee as your colleague (Sushma Swaraj) said in the other House.''

“If you don't want to pass the Bill, say so and have the courage and don't hide behind excuses,” he said adding the BJP was creating a fear psychosis over the issue of bringing NGOs and other institutions under the ombudsman. The provision was to cover trusts and institutions that received public donations and foreign funds above a certain amount.

During the debate, which saw an exchange of words between Mr. Jaitley and Mr. Singhvi, both lawyers, the Congress member rejected the Opposition's stand on reservation, saying the Bill did not have any provision for [extra-constitutional] quota but it only talked about ensuring “representation” to diverse sections of society. This aspect was later contested by the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, which wanted the government to clarify its stand.

Rejecting the charge of “assault on federal structure,” Mr. Singhvi said that under the Constitution, Parliament had the power to make laws for the entire country or any part. “Your argument that it is a constitutional cocktail does not have any punch.”

He said the Bill for the first time separated prosecution and investigative powers, abolished the practice of seeking sanction before prosecution of public servants and gave the Lokpal greater control of the CBI even though it did not bring the agency directly under the ombudsman.

Mr. Singhvi said the BJP's opposition to the Bill was just to score brownie points with an eye on the coming Assembly polls.

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The performance of Mr. Abhishek Singhvi at Rajyasabha was at best dismal. He opened his debate with a request that the Lokpal bill be GIFTED. Subsequently, in response th Jaitly's 'cocktail' remark he said that the cocktail lacks PUNCH. He scored a self goal here as Mr Jaitly had said the the proposal of the Govt. appears like a cocktail.

from:  Raman V.R
Posted on: Jan 3, 2012 at 14:49 IST

BJP want a Lokpal at the centre, but not in the states. One does not understand the logic of it. How can corruption be effectively tackled without creating such an institution at the state level as well? Is the party afraid that scams like Karnataka mines scam and land scam would be prevented? Its excuse is the federal structure of the constitution. If corruption can be eradicated by slightly compromising the so-called federal structure then be it so. It is interesting to note that the parties that oppose this provision of the Bill are those that are in power in the states, including Trinamool Congress. It seems their real intention behind supporting the anti-corruption movement was to put the Congress party in the dock. The moment they see that the bill would also affect them, they are backing out. "A strong Lokpal as long as Congress PM and CBI during Congress rule are brought under it; but the moment "we" come under its purview we reject it". Convoluted logic!

from:  Rafa
Posted on: Dec 31, 2011 at 00:45 IST

Basically both opposition and the ruling parties were not interested in passing the lokpal bill. They were actually trying to make the people of this nation fools. Both ruling and the opposition parties are equally corrupt. They were compelled by the Anna,s movement to bring the bill and discuss it in parliament. This whole exercise was an eyewash.

from:  santosh kumar
Posted on: Dec 31, 2011 at 00:17 IST

I listened to the live telecast of RS and LS debate on lokpal bill far
away from Germany just because of my concern for my beloved nation and
my fellow Indians. I am really grateful to team Anna for all their
efforts. However, i perceive that not only congress but also each and
every political party has their own bested interests. It seems much
political that team Anna getting ready to fight against congress in
the coming elections. On the other hand, they must pick out the
corrupt politicians and try to get them defeated them irrespective of
their parties. I observed that not only congress but also other
politicians are wearing masks and most of them are very opportunists
including Trinamool congress and BJP. In fact, congress were at least
committed to get their bill passed although it seems to be not that

from:  Rockson
Posted on: Dec 30, 2011 at 23:39 IST

If the discussions prior to parlimentary dicussions opened up live to the people through medias.The definite stand of the respective political parties would come to lime light.People will be able to know who is who.No heartful effort is taken from any quarters in order to pass an effective law on the subject to cutrail corruption.All appears in best costumes suitable for their ability.Actors,actress ,comedians philosophers all played their roles in accordanace to keep their respective satisfaction.No interest on public welfare is seen expressed.Put the sought amendement at the appropriate time and discussions and filtration of differences and thereby present before the Parliment will save lot of time and money.Money makes everything.we are forgetting and ignoring the fact that everyone has responsibility to the coming generation.Talking too much is no a democracy.We have to act first by taking fruitful exercise.Drafting from the lab and present the same before the forum is basic thing.

from:  v.pradeep
Posted on: Dec 30, 2011 at 22:52 IST

The failure of the lokpal bill indicates that the political class is really scared and wary of corruption. If passed, the bill may come and haunt them for the rest of their lives. These jokers are so used to 'easy money' that they cant imagine what their life will be without it. The ruling cannot muster enough support within to pass the bill and blames the opposition for its failure. The bill if passed has to be strong enough to withstand political interference and at the same time be accountable for its actions.I take comfort to the fact that India still has some form of democracy where people have the chance to voice their concerns.The political class should realise that they should act fast in bringing political reforms else they will be swept away by people like Anna hazare.

from:  SG
Posted on: Dec 30, 2011 at 22:01 IST

This skirmish in Parliament demonstrates beyond doubt that India is not fit to sit in UN/SC with such political incompetence and organizational deficits. Development over the past three decades should have eliminated the corruptive influence of elected officials and party leaders. When is India going to learn that rest of the world - BRICs - are moving ahead without it. At this frate of childrens game, the destiny of the subcontinent is not only unpredictable but also very bizzare...indeed.

from:  dr. hari naidu
Posted on: Dec 30, 2011 at 21:06 IST

After hearing the LS and Rs in this week....I would like to give a strong messgae to so called "intelectual persons" who slammed team Anna for their efforts and accused them pressurising the parliament for passing the bill...STOP criticizing the efforts of a great person who has given as much to society as you can not give in your next 7 Lives. First see your contribution to the society and then have the right to point out the fingures on great social activists. STOP BARKING on TV channels in a/c rooms and media and plz DO NOT show up your intellectuality. We do not need it. It is really detrimental to the Indian democracy. If you can't support it then at least do not inhibit it just for the sake of showing your knowledge about indian constitution. Do you guys really expect a strong Lokpal bill from these politicians? This is the tragedy of the indian democracy that many of the so called parliamentarians even doesn't know what is the Lokpal and they are there to vote for and against it

from:  Mk
Posted on: Dec 30, 2011 at 14:44 IST

The issues raised by BJP and other opposition especially Shri jaitley makes more convencing to the people of India than Shri Singhvi as congress could have forseen all propabilties of possiblle points of contoroversy and could have taken actions alternatively and could have extened time to failitate passage of the Bill.Furthermore, how come states come in picture. It could have controlled by enactment the appoitnments of lokayukts in states without delay and in time limit as is being lingered by Gujarat ruling party an excuse what center does.Centre should have fast track mechanism of process at states also so that there may not be excuses and delays which all ruling parties are to resorting to. As at present ruling party has prooved proverbial sentence of Lord Acton correct by it's ugly behaviour by defying Anna hazare a face of public.I really fail to understand why ruling as well as opposition do not come clean by puting their points with supporting pleas in print media in full.

from:  P.P.Shah
Posted on: Dec 30, 2011 at 09:31 IST

A bunch of kids,fighting it out to save their stolen candies.All these days it was made to believe that Lokpal would be a death siren for Congress,and the opposition went all out demanding for it thinking congress won't dare to bring one.Congress proved itself much mature and intelligent by bringing one,pushing everyone including its allies to backfoot.Now they are fighting it out to save their own skin,since they never expected a Boomerang in the name of Lokayukta.Words like “constitutional havoc” doesn't carry any meaning, its the 'corruption havoc' thats worrying them.As usual we the Intelligent fools called common man can do nothing but watch because we the one who gave birth to these useless kids.

from:  Jaya Prakash
Posted on: Dec 30, 2011 at 08:29 IST
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