Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lokpal Bill: MPs give it to Anna, government Left, Right, Centre (Hindustan Times)

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Legislators from various parties slammed activist Anna Hazare and the government during the debate in the Parliament after the Lokpal Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha.

Though different MPs criticised the government and Anna Hazare on various grounds the primary criticism of govt was around undue haste in tabling the lokpal bill in the House while Anna was criticised for bullying the government on the lokpal issue and trying to dictate the Parliament. Many parties were also unhappy over attempt to bring the Prime Minister under its purview and making it mandatory for states to form Lokayuktas. The inclusion of minorities' quota in the bill was also opposed by some and favoured by some parties.

However, the government rejected the opposition of the legislators with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee saying, "It is for the 545 members of the Lok Sabha to decide on the bill. It is not undue haste. There is nothing illegal."
BJP expressed its unhappiness with the Lokpal Bill with leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj saying, "We are disappointed. This is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has given dozens of rulings stating that any reservation should not be more than 50%. Take it back, return with a fresh pro-constitutional bill and we will pass that."
Opposing the bill, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad said, "We in Parliament have to decide about the bill. Don't do anything wrong fearing the agitation. Whatever right is to be done, we will do that. We want a Lokpal Bill but it has to be strong. This is not a strong bill. Wrong to bring ex-parliamentarians under Lokpal."
Communist Party of India member Gurudas Dasgupta also expressed unhappiness saying that sovereignty of the Parliament should not be compromised and no one should be able to dictate terms to them. He said, "I appeal to the Congress party and to the government that under no circumstances the sovereignty of parliament should be surrendered. The Lokpal Bill is being sought to be introduced in unusual haste. There is only one father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, let us not allow anybody pretend to be a single crusader against corruption. We fought against corruption."

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.  Parties like RJD, Samajwadi Party, AIMIM, AIADMK opposed bringing the Prime Minister under the purview of a body which would be "accountable to nobody".
BJP, JD(U), BJD, AIADMK, 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.

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%. She did not want the judiciary to strike it down. Swaraj said this bill should not be introduced and the government should bring a revised one.
To this, 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.
"Nothing is being dictated. 543 members of this House (Lok Sabha) will finally decide the fate of Lokpal," Mukherjee said, adding if "any deficiencies" were found, these could be addressed through amendments. "Don't blame the government for what it is not responsible."
On the controversy over provision for Lokayuktas, he said the concerns would be addressed when the act is notified. At the same time, he admitted that there could have been a "mismatch in legislative business" but was not unusual.
Referring to the flip-flop with regard to reference to minorities in the new bill, he said originally it was included but after discussions with political parties, questions were raised about its Constitutional validity and it was deleted.
Later it was decided to let the judiciary decide whether it is constitutionally valid or not, Mukherjee said. He noted that decisions had been taken earlier which were later declared as ultra vires by the courts.
The 64-page Bill brings the PM under the purview of Lokpal with certain conditions but keeps out CBI from its control. However, the Lokpal will have superintendence over CBI in corruption cases referred by it to the investigation agency.
It has been proposed that the CBI Director will be selected by a three-member committee comprising the Prime Minister, leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court Judge nominated by him.
The changes in the appointment process will be made by amending the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, according to the Bill.
Opposing introduction of the Bill, SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav said it was unconstitutional to make the Prime Minister answerable to Lokpal instead of Parliament.
"It is being assumed that all members of the Lokpal would be honest. Is it correct? Will Lokpal not misuse powers and blackmail the government?  This bill should not be allowed to be introduced," he said.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad strongly asked the government not to take any "wrong step" under the "fear" of agitation. "We want Lokpal Bill. Everybody wants to fight corruption. But the Bill should be strong. This is not strong and is full of limitations," he said, asking "will corruption end in this manner?"
Hitting out at Anna Hazare and his team, Prasad said, "if someone goes on fast for the benefit of his health, what do we have to do with it?... Three-four people cannot dictate to Parliament. We are the lawmakers."
Attacking the government for bringing the bill in "utter haste", he underlined that "it is not a minor issue" and warned that the nation will "never forgive us" if any wrong measure is put in place.
He said there were some provisions in the Bill which even Hazare had not demanded. He also had a piece of advice for Hazare, saying he should pay attention to his health and praised Bal Thackeray for opposing the Bill.
At the same time, he argued in favour of more than 50% reservation in the Lokpal Bench, saying that it was not government service where there is a cap of 50%.

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