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Office of profit Bill gets RS nod
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 27
The controversial Office of Profit Bill, which was returned by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for reconsideration was passed today by the Rajya Sabha by division vote, following a heated debate in which the BJP described the re-introduction of the Bill as the “arrogance” of parliamentary majority.

The Rajya Sabha took up the Bill for voting after a four-hour debate followed by a reply from the government. It was passed with 98 members voting in favour and 49 against it. The voting, titled The Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill 2006, took place after the BJP asked for a division.

Earlier, all amendments moved by BJP members, including Ms Sushma Swaraj and Mr Dinesh Trivedi of the Trinamool Congress, were rejected.

The Bill was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on July 25 under Article 111 of the Constitution.

The Bill provides for exclusion of 56 posts, including that of the National Advisory Council (NAC) chairperson, from the purview of offices of profit.

Participating in the debate, former Law Minister Arun Jaitley in his 50-minute speech said the President had given a sane advice by asking the government to reconsider the “constitutional misadventure”. He advised the government to correct its mistakes, but he was not sure whether the UPA government would heed to it because it had to protect certain individuals, many of whom are from the Left parties, from disqualification.

Slamming the Left for backing the legislation, Mr Jaitley said they were extending support to the Bill to save their own MPs.

Meanwhile, the government made a strong defence of the controversial Bill, saying that a practical view should be taken about certain posts which are proposed to be exempted from its purview. Giving the government’s viewpoint, Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj said the office of profit has nowhere been defined yet. Only its scope has been defined from time to time by the judiciary, he said.

Earlier, the Bill faced stormy weather from a vociferous Opposition, leading to three adjournments of the House in quick succession. Each time the government sought to introduce the Bill, the Opposition raised vociferous protests, claiming that the issue of national security like the discussion on Mumbai blasts should take precedence.

Even senior members like Mr Arun Shourie and Mr Dinesh Trivedi questioned the wisdom of taking up the profit Bill. Deputy Chairman K. Rehman Khan said the Chairman had ruled that the House should take up the discussion on the office of Profit Bill and he had to go by the ruling.

Slamming the Opposition for going public on the issue when Parliament was seized of the matter, Congress member Abhishek Singhvi questioned the rationale behind the demand that the President should seek the Supreme Court’s opinion on the matter.

Samajwadi party leader Amar Singh, who heads the UP Development Council, an office of profit, described the move to pass the legislation with retrospective effect as illegal. Accusing the BJP of adopting double standards on the issue, he said though he would be one of the beneficiaries, he wanted to know who was the real target “myself or Jaya Bachchan”. CPI-M member Sitaram Yechury said there was need to define what the office of profit was and suggested a parliamentary panel to go into the matter.

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Shekawat, Jaswant threaten to quit
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 27
Rajya Sabha Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekawat and Opposition leader in the Rajya Sabha Jaswant Singh today threatened to resign when belligerent BJP members questioned their decision to give precedence to a discussion on the Office of Profit Bill instead of the inconclusive debate on the Mumbai blasts.

This bitter battle took place at a meeting called by Mr Shekawat in his chamber when the Rajya Sabha was adjourned after angry BJP members, including S.S.Ahluwalia, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Vinay Katiyar and Dinesh Trivedi of Trinamul Congress disrupted proceedings and demanded that the incomplete debate on the Mumbai blasts be taken up before the Office of Profit Bill.

They wondered how their leaders, Jaswant Singh and Sushma Swaraj, had agreed to this suggestion. They also questioned Mr Shekawat’s ruling according precedence to the Bill instead of the debate on the Mumbai blasts. This discussion could not be completed yesterday as the House was adjourned after agitated BJP members objected to Samajwadi Party leader Janeshwar Mishra’s comparison of the RSS with the Islamic students’ body, SIMI.

It is learnt that Mr Shekawat took strong exception to the manner in which his ruling was questioned by the protesting BJP members. “If the members have no respect for the chair... there is no reason for me to continue in this post,” remarked a visibly angry Vice-President. Similarly, Mr Jaswant Singh also took exception to being shouted down by his colleagues. He, too, offered to step down as Leader of the Opposition.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, who was also present at this meeting called to resolve the deadlock, pacified Mr Shekawat.

BJP leaders admitted that their internal differences were on full display at this meeting. “There was a lot of unrest in the party when members learnt that their floor leaders had agreed to delay the discussion on Mumbai blasts in favour of the debate on the Office of Profit Bill. After all, over 200 persons were killed in the blasts while this Bill is meant to protect a few MPs,” said a fuming BJP member of the Rajya Sabha.

This slanging match was, however, only cut short when both Mr Shekawat and Mr Jaswant Singh threatened to put in their papers. The angry Opposition leaders were persuaded to allow the debate on the Office of Profit Bill after senior party leaders explained that their disruption could prove counter-productive as the Treasury Benches would then rush through the Bill in the melee. Since the Bill had been sent back by the President with a message to Parliament, it was only appropriate that its members record their views on this crucial issue instead of allowing its passage without a debate, it was argued.

 



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