The uncertainty over the timetable for the passage of the Lokpal Bill ended on Wednesday with a decision by the government to introduce it in the Lok Sabha on Thursday and take it up for discussion and consideration on December 27, immediately after a short Christmas break.
It is learnt that three Bills — the Lokpal Bill, a separate law to give the new body a constitutional status and the proposed Bill to protect whistle-blowers — will be introduced simultaneously.
The government proposed that the first two be taken up for discussion together, although this suggestion met with resistance from the Left and some other parties at a meeting of the Rajya Sabha Business Advisory Committee on Wednesday evening.
The timetable for consideration and passage of this important piece of legislation was finalised after Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee got the green signal from Bharatiya Janata Party leaders L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, whom he met in his chamber.
“We had no objection to the Bill being taken up on December 27, or even on December 22 as proposed earlier,” Ms. Swaraj told journalists. “The government told us that since the President had been away and could put her signature on the Bill only today [on Wednesday], the Bill could not be printed for circulation to MPs yesterday [on Tuesday]. This will be done tonight [on Wednesday] so that it can be introduced on Thursday and taken up on December 27 after a short break. We had no objection.”
Since all MPs require sufficient time to read the Bill before it is taken up for discussion and passage, it has become impossible for the government to push the Bill through by December 23. The BJP has reserved its considered reaction to the Bill till after it reads the “fine print.”
The government can push the Lokpal Bill through by a simple majority — whips have been issued; some parties said they would do this on Thursday asking their MPs to be present to vote on all three days from December 27 to 29.
But for giving the new authority a constitutional status — first proposed by AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi during the monsoon session debate on the issue — it will need substantial Opposition support. A constitutional amendment, which this would be, can be carried only if at least 50 per cent of all members are present and two-thirds vote in its favour. It is not yet clear whether the Bill giving the Lokpal constitutional status will be put to vote at all on December 27, for technically that can be done later, even months or years later as the BJP would prefer.