Lokpal Bill tabled in protest-hit Parliament
India Blooms News Service
New Delhi, Dec 22 (IBNS): In what can be called a historic day in Parliament, the much debated Lokpal Bill that seeks to fight all-pervasive corruption by forming an institution headed by an anti-graft ombudsman was tabled in the lower house on Thursday by the ruling UPA government, triggering a wave of protest from the Opposition and its immediate rejection by the Anna Hazare group led civil society that had galvanized the nation on the issue.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister V Narayanasamy tabled the Lokpal Bill in the house on Thursday afternoon, sparking a tsunami of opposition, especially over a minority quota introduced in the last moment by the government.
For different reasons, almost the entire opposition voiced their disapproval of the bill while it could neither please self-styled Gandhian and corruption crusader Anna Hazare who stuck to his gun threatening a long agitation against the bill.
Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee countering the Opposition said the bill was not presented in a haste.
He said the civil society started a movement and the government heeded to it and joint groups were formed and all political parties were consulted with a series of meetings.
"There is nothing unusual," he said, adding that it was up to the Parliament to decide on the 'fate' of the Lokpal Bill that was tabled.
"543 members, all of you decide fate of Lokpal Bill," Mukherjee said.
Key opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) voiced their objections.
The BJP objected the language of minority quota in the bill and even feared that the government might force the states to accept the weak Lokpal Bill although several states have a stronger ombudsman.
"We will not allow this unconstitutional Bill to pass," BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said.
She said the bill is unconstitutional since no reservation should be more than 50 percent while this bill "says quota for not less than 50 percent".
"No less than 50 percent means at least five [the Lokpal panel is nine-member strong] . So this is unconstitutional," she said.
An angry Yashwant Sinha of BJP said the government is blackmailing by amending the bill with a corrigendum and adding the minority reservation.
"This is blackmail. I oppose it strongly. The government has no business to do it with corrigendum. This is amendment," he said.
Using his characteristic humour, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad said Anna Hazare should better pay attention to his health.
He said the bill will come like a noose round the neck of any prime minister.
Urging the government to not do wrong thing for fear of agitation, he said: "The Prime Minister is the leader of the country."
Meanwhile, the chief architect of the movement for a Lokpal Bill, Anna Hazare, has trashed the bill presented in the House.
"This bill should not be passed. This is weak. This will not end corruption in India. Till the corrupt people go to jail, there is no end to corrutpion and this bill does not have the provision to send people to jail," Anna said.
He demanded that Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should be included under Lokpal.
"Why the government fears to include CBI? I think that will drag several ministers in prison," he said.
The social activist assured on Thursday that he will continue his fight "till India becomes free from corruption."
"This Govt will not give people an independent anti corruption agency for skeletons from CBI cupboard will come tumbling down," Anna group member Kiran Bedi tweeted.
Key member of Team Anna, Arvind Kejriwal, criticised the draft of Lokpal Bill and said it is trying to 'crush' the rights of the common man through the bill.
"Government will make civil society, temple, masjid (mosque) under their control. Government is attempting to crush the rights of people with this bill," Kejriwal said at a press conference.
He said that Lokpal Bill is anti-people and 'dangerous'.
Kejriwal said that the control of CBI should be taken away from the government.
"First time after independence, government is showing an empathy towards the corrupt," Kejriwal said.
He even said the draft of the Lokpal Bill has 'no transparency'.
Earlier, the Lok Sabha was adjourned twice on Thursday after members disrupted the house over the Lokpal Bill.
The new draft of the Lokpal Bill cleared by the Union Cabinet on Tuesday was earlier set to be introduced in the Lok Sabha at 11 am.
Even as the bill was set for introduction in the Lower House of the Parliament amid a wind of a brewing political storm, the discussions on the Bill have been scheduled to take place on Dec 27, 28 and 29 during the extended winter session of the House.
The schedule was decided after Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, on Wednesday, met with the prominent leaders of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party including senior leaders L.K. Advani, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and her counterpart in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley.
Keeping in view that there was lack of time to facilitate the passage of the Bill, it was also agreed upon that the current session of the Parliament will be extended by three days after a short Christmas break.
Lokpal Bill at a glance:
The Government introduced in Lok Sabha the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill 2011, aimed at setting up the body of Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas at the level of the States. Government also introduced a Bill for amending the Constitution for conferment of Constitutional status on both bodies.
Government also withdrew earlier Lokpal Bill, 2011 as it decided to introduce a new comprehensive Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 Bill after consideration of the suggestions made by the Parliamentary Committee which recommended significant changes in the scope and content of the earlier Bill.
The salient features of the proposed new Bills are as under:-
Focus on improving accountability
1. Establishment of new institution in the Constitution called Lokpal for theUnion and Lokayukta for the States. These autonomous and independent bodies, shall have powers of superintendence and direction for holding a preliminary inquiry, causing an investigation to be made and prosecution of offences in respect of complaints under any law for the prevention of corruption.
2. The Bill provides a uniform vigilance and anti corruption road map for the nation, both at Centre and States.
3. The Bill institutionalizes separation of investigation from prosecution and thereby removing conflict of interest as well as increasing the scope for professionalism and specialisation.
Structure of the Institution:
1. Lokpal will consist of a Chairperson and a maximum of eight Members of which fifty percent shall be judicial Members.
2. Fifty per cent of members of Lokpal shall be from amongst SC, ST, OBCs, Minorities and Women.
3. There shall be an Inquiry Wing of the Lokpal for conducting the preliminary inquiry and an independent Prosecution Wing.
4. Officers of the Lokpal to include the Secretary, Director of Prosecution, Director of Inquiry and other officers.
Process of selection:
1. The selection of Chairperson and Members of Lokpal shall be through a Selection Committee consisting of
Speaker of Lok Sabha;
Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha;
Chief Justice of India or a sitting Supreme Court Judge nominated by CJI;
Eminent jurist to be nominated by the President of India
A Search Committee to assist Selection Committee in the process of selection. Fifty per cent of members of Search Committee shall be from amongst SC, ST, OBCs, Minorities and Women.
Prime Minister to be brought under the purview of the Lokpal with subject matter exclusions and specific process for handling complaints against the Prime Minister. Lokpal can not hold any inquiry against the Prime Minister if allegations relate to:
External and internal security of the country;
Any decision of Lokpal to initiate preliminary inquiry or investigation against the Prime Minister shall be taken only by the Full Bench with a majority of 3/4th. Such proceedings shall be held in camera.
Lokpals jurisdiction to include all categories of public servants including Group A, B, C & D officers and employees of Government. On complaints referred to CVC by Lokpal, CVC will send its report of PE in respect of Group A and B officers back to Lokpal for further decision. With respect to Group C and D employees, CVC will proceed further in exercise of its own powers under the CVC Act subject to reporting and review by Lokpal.
All entities receiving donations from foreign source in the context of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) in excess of Rs. 10 lakhs per year are brought under the jurisdiction of Lokpal.
Lokpal will not be able to initiate inquiry suo moto.
Other significant features of the Bill
1. No prior sanction shall be required for launching prosecution in cases enquired by Lokpal or initiated on the direction and with the approval of Lokpal.
2. A high powered Committee chaired by the Prime Minister with leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and Chief Justice of India as members, will recommend selection of the Director, CBI.
3. Provisions for confiscation of property acquired by corrupt means, even while prosecution is pending.
4. Lokpal to be final appellate authority on all decisions by public authorities relating to provision of public services and redressal of grievances containing findings of corruption.
5. Lokpal to have power of superintendence and direction over any investigation agency including CBI for cases referred to them.
6. The Bill lays down clear time lines for :
7. Preliminary enquiry three months extendable by three months.
8. Investigation six months extendable by six months.
9. Trial one year extendable by one year.
10. The Bill proposes to enhance punishment under Prevention of Corruption Act :
11. Maximum punishment from 7 years to 10 years
12. Minimum punishment from 6 months to 2 years
13. The Bill proposes to give legal backing to Asset Declaration by public servants.
The Bill also seeks to make necessary consequential amendments in the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003, and the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946.
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