Amidst objections from the Opposition, the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 was finally tabled in the Lok Sabha on Thursday with House leader Pranab Mukherjee appealing to members to allow the historic draft to be introduced as the first step towards collectively discussing, amending or changing it.
The draft and a parallel constitutional Amendment Bill introduced at the same time propose to create an anti-graft ombudsman with constitutional status whose ambit will include looking at complaints of corruption against all government employees, including the Prime Minister, though with some carve-outs.
The Lokpal, as proposed by the new draft, differs from the one envisaged by the government's previous Bill on the subject, which was simultaneously withdrawn on Thursday. The new Bill's salient points include:
* The Lokpal's writ will extend to the Prime Minister (with some exclusions), Ministers, current and former MPs (except in respect of what they say or how they vote in the House), and group A, B, C, and D officers and officials of the Central government.
* Fifty per cent of the members of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas shall be from amongst SCs/STs, OBCs and women. “Minorities” was added to this quota in the corrigenda circulated to MPs shortly before the introduction.
* NGOs and institutions receiving donations of more than Rs. 10 lakhs per annum from foreign sources will also be covered.
* Lokpal to have constitutional status and be accountable to Parliament
Though some of the suggestions made by social activist Anna Hazare and his supporters find reflection in the new draft, the UPA government's Lokpal continues to differ on several key points from Team Anna's version:
* Government nominees have a majority of one on the selection committee, which will choose the Lokpal's chairperson and eight members
* The CBI will continue to remain under the administrative control of the government and not the Lokpal.
* The judiciary and the citizens' charter are not part of the Lokpal but will be covered by other laws
When the Bill was being introduced, some MPs criticised the “undue haste” shown. Some parties asserted the supremacy of Parliament and urged the UPA government not to “succumb” to threats of agitation.
Mr. Mukherjee rejected the allegation that the government was acting “under duress.” He said it was up to MPs to debate each and every clause and then decide the fate of the Bill. An institution like the Lokpal to deal with corruption in high places had been under discussion in the government since April and the views of various political parties were taken on August 27. “Where is the question of [the government] acting under duress,” he asked.
Rejecting the BJP's charge that the Bill was “constitutionally untenable,” Mr. Mukherjee said, “let [the] judiciary decide'' if it was so. Hitting out at the Opposition, he said that such an important piece of legislation was not decided by sitting on a “dharna manch” or on the streets.
Several parties, including the main Opposition BJP and the Shiv Sena, the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the AIADMK opposed introduction of the Bill in the current form. The RJD, the SP and the AIADMK were also opposed to bringing the Prime Minister within the purview of the Lokpal which, they contended, would not be “accountable” to anyone. They were also vociferous in their opposition to a provision which made it mandatory for States to set up Lokayuktas, contending it was an infringement on the “federal structure” and encroachment on the powers of a State government.