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A much publicized bill for creating an anti-graft ombudsman with Constitutional status was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Thursday amid objections by various parties.
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 was introduced along with a Constitutional (116th Amendment) Bill, even as several parties questioned the “haste” and asserted that Parliament should not allow itself to “succumb” to some individual threatening agitation, a reference to Anna Hazare and his team.
At the same time, the previous Lokpal Bill, 2011, introduced in August, was withdrawn.
Rejecting the contention of “undue haste”, the government declared that it was under “no duress” on the issue and it was for Parliamentarians to decide the fate of the Bill.
“If you feel it is not necessary, we will not have it. Legislation is the domain of Parliament. It is not made on the dharna manch or on the streets,” Finance Minister and Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee said.
Various parties, including BJP, Shiv Sena, RJD, AIMIM and AIADMK, opposed introduction of the bill in the current form and wanted the government to revise it.
While RJD, Samajwadi Party, and AMIM opposed bringing the Prime Minister under the purview of a body which would be “accountable to nobody,” the BJP, JD(U), BJD, DMK and CPI(M) objected to a provision in the Lokpal Bill, claiming that it made it “mandatory” for states to set up Lokayuktas and was an “attack” on the federal structure. The AIADMK registered its objection to both the clauses.
Several members also objected to the circulation of Corrigenda and the Supplementary List of Business at the last minute, contending that this “monumental inefficiency” and “Parliamentary mismanagement” left no time for them to study the legislation which will affect the country’s future.
BJP leader Sushma Swaraj objected to the provision for “not less than 50 per cent” reservation for minorities in the proposed Lokpal bench, saying it would mean five in nine-member bench which was “patently unconstitutional” as there was no provision for quota on the basis of religion.
She noted that there were dozens of Supreme Court orders which said that there should be no reservation beyond 50 per cent. She did not want the judiciary to strike it down.
Ms. Swaraj said this bill should not be introduced and the government should bring a revised one.
To this, Mr. Mukherjee said the “legislative competence” should be left to the House and objected to any discussion on the merits of the bill at its introduction stage.
“It is the Constitutional responsibility of the House to pass a law. It is for the judiciary to pick holes. Let this House not assume the role of judiciary,” he retorted.
“Whether to pass a bill or not, depends on the numbers,” he said, noting that the Lokpal Bill was “not an ordinary piece of legislation” but something for which the country has been waiting for 40 years.
Giving the context of the move, Mukherjee reminded the House that there had been an “agitation” (by Anna Hazare) and another one was impending. He also referred to the other developments like the meetings of Joint Drafting Committee involving civil society and all-party meetings.
“Current events are the efforts since April...Where is the question of duress? There is no undue haste,” he said.