Three Congress MPs want Group C employees within purview of proposed ombudsman
The flip flop by Congress MPs on the Parliamentary Standing Committee, formulating its recommendations on the controversial Lokpal Bill, took yet another twist on Wednesday even as the report was formally adopted, when three party MPs, expressing their dissent to the draft — and directly challenging the government line — demanded that Group C employees also come within the purview of the proposed ombudsman.
Interestingly, the first move was made by Meenakshi Natarajan, MP from Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, known to be close to Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi. She found ready support from party colleagues Deepa Das Munsi (Raiganj, West Bengal) and P.T. Thomas (Idukki, Kerala).
For the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, which will have to finalise its recommendations in the form of amendments after the report is tabled in Parliament on Friday, before approving it in the Cabinet and then moving the Bill in the House, the differences within the Congress contingent in the Standing Committee just compounds its problems. This is especially as it plans to bring the Bill to the Lok Sabha on December 19 and pass it before the session ends on December 22.
As things stand, the 30-member panel headed by Congress Rajya Sabha MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi has turned in a report with over a dozen notes of dissent emanating from the 12 parties represented on it — including the Congress — something that is unprecedented, say long time MPs. The Standing Committees have long had, they say, a tradition of achieving bipartisan agreement on tricky issues with, at worst, one or two notes of dissent.
For the government, staggering from one embarrassment to another, this clearly adds to its problems. Congress sources said the party's leadership was unhappy with the way things had been managed on the panel. “The job of the chairman,” said a party functionary, “was to build consensus, and narrow differences. Much more work should have gone into it, especially as the Bill is so important for the party, vis a vis civil society.”
Predictably, Team Anna lashed out at Mr. Singhvi, accusing him of disrespecting Parliament by going against its commitment of including the lower bureaucracy and the Citizens' Charter in the Bill. On August 27, the ‘sense of the House' resolution that was moved by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had said: “This House agrees ‘in principle' on the following issues (i) citizens' charter, (ii) lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal through an appropriate mechanism, and (iii) establishment of the Lokayukta in the States.”
For the Opposition MPs on the committee, the flip flop by their colleagues from the Congress was bewildering: on November 30, the entire Congress contingent agreed to the inclusion of Group C employees — that is the lower bureaucracy — in the Bill. On December 1, an emergency meeting was called, and the Congress recanted on this point. And now, when the report was taken for adoption, three Congress MPs demanded that Group C employees come within the purview of the proposed ombudsman.