Monday, 2 January 2012

Will the Lokpal Bill become law ?

The proposed  Lokpal Bill has become a much debated commodity ever since it was introduced in the Lok Sabha by the ruling party. To go back to the niceties of the bill, we have to see the history behind the introduction of the Bill in Parliament. After the first agitation of Anna, in April last year, the Bill was referred to a drafting committee comprising of government ministers, as well as representatives of the Anna panel. After several meetings with each other the draft was prepared. The Anna team did not agree with the draft, and brought out their own Jan Lokpal Bill, which they claimed was nothing short of the best. The government disagreed with that perception and continued with their own draft. What followed was another round of agitation and fast by Anna, which saw both houses of Parliament literally falling flat and passing a resolution, giving a sense of the house that almost all suggestions of Anna were acceptable to them, provided the fast was called off. Anna promptly obliged and the bill was referred to a standing committee which was asked to look into the provisions of all the Bills available on the subject of Lokpal, conduct meetings with members of various opposition parties, members of Anna team, members of other civil society groups. Suggestions were also invited from the public, and finally after a long drawn out session, the draft Lokpal Bill was prepared by the standing committee, and submitted to the government which in turn placed it before the Parliament.

The draft Bill was kept under wraps till the last moment, and was circulated to the members of the Lok Sabha only a day prior to the Bill being circulated in the Lok Sabha. This was perhaps done to reduce criticism by the members of the media as well as the members of Anna team. The result was that as soon as the draft was circulated there were various objections raised on the provisions of the draft Bill. Most of these were relating to the autonomy of CBI, the reservation clause which was introduced regarding the members of the panel, the Lokayukta dispute which was to be implemented in the States as well and various small issues, including the issue of granting constitutional status to the Lokpal. The government under all around pressure decided to withdraw the Bill and promised to come back with a new Bill within a span of a week's time of its presentation. As is usual the government went into overdrive to satisfy the various allies as well as members of Opposition who were prepared to tear into the Bill and run down the government. Members of the Anna team as usual were cynical about the Bill and called it by various names like " Jokepal" and so forth. The government thereafter held an all-party meeting before introducing the revised fresh Lokpal bill, with members of all opposition parties as well as allies. All aspects were discussed threadbare including the issue of CBI autonomy as well as constitutional status to the Lokpal, and the vexed issue of the Lokayukta being granted same powers at the State level, as the Lokpal at the Centre. It was only after some amount of consensus was arrived at between the ruling party as well as the main opposition that the fresh Lokpal bill was presented in the Parliament.

When it was presented in the Parliament in the Lok Sabha, there was a huge debate and uproar, and surprisingly the main opposition party, presumably the BJP did not raise much opposition to the federal structure of the states being affected by the introduction of Lokayukta in all the states, along with the Lokpal at the Centre. In fact BJP sought to run down the Bill on the issue of grant of constitutional status to the Lokpal, and ultimately voted against the Bill as regards the issue of grant of constitutional status. Later the members of the BJP could be seen gloating in public, that it was a major victory for them to see that the ruling party lost on the issue of grant of constitutional status to the Lokpal bill, why, because the idea had been floated by their Prime Minister in waiting Mr Rahul Gandhi. So therefore the main objective of the principal opposition party was to somehow block the proposed move of  Rahul Gandhi to give constitutional status to the Lokpal bill. The other issue they were not very much concerned with and neither did they raise any objection, or should we say serious objection, either on the Lokayukta clause in the Lokpal bill or the question of grant of autonomy to CBI.

The Bill was somehow passed in the Lok Sabha and was then introduced in the Rajya Sabha after taking consent of the President of India for its introduction. In the Rajya Sabha, the government did not have the required numbers to get the Bill passed and therefore it had to depend solely either on its allies and like-minded parties to bail it out, and more importantly it had to depend on the BJP to get the bill through. Without the help of the BJP the government was certainly not in a position to get the Bill passed and this was evident to everybody, right from the beginning. It is therefore surprising that the people expected the ruling party to get the Bill through, without support from the other parties. It was then that Mamta Banerjee of the TMC was roped in, to raise objections regarding the attack on the Federal structure of the states being hit in case the Lokayukta clause was not deleted from the Lokpal bill. Surprisingly the TMC had supported the government on this issue in the Lok Sabha. As soon as it was known that TMC was opposing this provision all the regional parties as well as other allies, as well as the main opposition BJP latched on to the idea and presented as many as 187 amendments to the proposed Bill which was sought to be now cleared by the Rajya Sabha. It was clear that the Lokayukta clause was tagged along with the Lokpal bill, after due concurrence and the deliberation of all the parties which attended the various all-party meetings called by the government. In fact the Lokayukta was the main plank of the Anna team as well because while they wanted a strong Lokpal at the Centre, and they also wanted that there should be Lokayukta having uniform powers in all the states of India. Surprisingly after this deliberation, the volte face by all the parties except the Congress was indeed shocking to say the least. Actually, if this demand is accepted, the Lokpal bill would prove to be Draconian for the Centre, but absolutely toothless for the States. As is well known from everyday newspaper and media reports that corruption is prevalent at the State level, and needs to be tackled on a war footing. All the presiding officers who man the office of Lokayukta in the States, have lamented the fact that they do not have the adequate powers to properly investigate, nor prescribe any punishment, and worst they don't have any say in the implementation of their report. No less a person than Santosh Hegde who is a member of the Anna team as well as the former Lokayukta of Karnataka has lamented this fact. In fact the other day one of the ministers of the Maya Cabinet openly dared the Lokayukta and asked him to stay away from probing him. Little wonder then that the opposition parties wanted the ruling party to go in for the vote regarding the Lokpal bill in the Rajya  Sabha, without this provision being incorporated. The BJP knew very well, that in case the Bill was put to vote, the Congress would have naturally lost, and then the BJP would have had a good laugh and told the entire Nation, that since the Bill was weak therefore they had no option but to get it defeated in the Rajya Sabha. This diabolical attitude on the part of the opposition parties is really surprising, and does not augur well for the future of democracy in this country. On various issues which are important to the good governance of the country, the opposition as well as the ruling party should, and can come together to push the Bills through. In fact without the help of the opposition and its guidance, it would be very difficult for any ruling party to get their legislation passed, especially if they do not have a majority in one House or the other.

It is therefore imperative that both the major parties of our country sit down together on the legislation proposed to be introduced, and chalk out their plans in advance so that no backstabbing is resorted to at the last moment, and no attempt is made to project as if the ruling party knows nothing about the legislation it has sought to be introduced. Since a lot of preparation has already gone into the presentation of the Lokpal bill, it would be in the fitness of things if all the parties sort out the small issues and get on with the Lokpal Bill being passed from both the Houses of Parliament. This is more so important, because there are other pressing issues facing the country at the moment, like the economic reforms which need to be presented and continued with full vigor. We cannot be seen to be dealing with corruption alone, when there are many more important issues staring us in the face, with the issue of economic revival as well as growth of industry, food security, land acquisition and other such issues to name a few. We have about two months to go for the budget session to start and it would be in the fitness of things that all the parties get together, and without prejudice to each other's stance, sort out this issue of Lokpal bill so that it can be passed through both House of the Parliament and made into legislation. Cheers!

To be Continued ..............

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