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Rajya Sabha leaves Lokpal Bill in limbo
House adjourned sine die as govt ducks vote; chaos as Oppn moves over 185 amendments
Ashok Tuteja/TNS

New Delhi, December 29
Parliament tonight lost a historic opportunity to enact an anti-graft law when an embarrassed government was forced to beat a hasty retreat in the Rajya Sabha, lacking the numbers to push through the Lokpal and the Lokayukta Bill.

It was an unprecedented situation when Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal got up in the midst of the reply to the marathon 11-hour debate on the Bill to point out that there were more than 185 amendments moved by different parties and sought more time to study the amendments.

"The session is coming to an end tonight…in order to bring a lacunae-free bill, we need more time," he said, realising that the Bill would fail to muster the support of the majority as the UPA does not have a majority. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also was witnessing the entire drama in the House.

Bansal was left speechless when an agitated Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley pointed out that the numbers were with the Opposition and, therefore, the government was running away from a vote.

This is a huge embarrassment for the government two days after it failed to secure the passage of the Constitution Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha for giving the constitutional status to the office of the Lokpal.

The Rajya Sabha was abruptly adjourned sine die amid chaotic scenes. The UPA regime found itself in a hopeless situation in the House with its key ally Trinamool Congress also refusing to pass the legislation without the provision on the Lokayukta being dropped.

Jaitley alleged that the government had choreographed the entire debate in such a fashion that the bill was not put to vote eventually. "If a government runs away from Parliament, it has no right to govern," he said.

"There is a total impasse. The House can't be conducted in this manner. Most reluctantly, I have to say I can't conduct the proceedings," Chairman Hamid Ansari said as he ordered the playing of the national anthem amid a high drama.

What was obviously weighing in the minds of the UPA managers was that if the amendments moved by the opposition and the Trinamool Congress were carried, the legislation would then go back to the Lok Sabha. If the Lower House were to reject these amendments, it would have necessitated a joint session of Parliament.

As soon as Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanamsay got up to reply to the debate, several members on the Opposition benches were on their feet, demanding that the legislation should not be put to vote. Shouting "Lokpal vaapis lo (take back Lokpal Bill)," Rajneeti Prasad Singh of the RJD walked up to Narayanasamy's seat on the treasury benches in an attempt to stall the proceedings and tore off a copy of the legislation.

RJD supremo Lalu Prasad at that time was seated in the gallery, gleefully watching the proceedings.

Replying to the debate marked by sharp exchanges between the treasury benches and the Opposition, Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy charged the BJP with adopting double standards on the legislation. When the NDA was in power, it sat on the Lokpal legislation for two years. The BJP at that time was opposed to bringing the Prime Minister within the ambit of the Lokpal but now that it was in the Opposition, it wanted the PM to be included in it, he said amid the din in the House.

With the Congress party wooing the Muslims in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Narayanasamy wondered why there was a hue and cry over reservation for the minorities in the lokpal. The BJP had wanted the clause on the reservation for minorities in the Bill to be deleted. "Our government has taken a lot of steps for combating corruption in the country," he said and drew the attention of the House towards various legislations enacted by the UPA dispensation. He also alleged that the BJP had taken a U-turn by opposing the Constitutional Amendment Bill to give the constitutional status to the office of the Lokpal.

Narayanasamy asserted that a provision has already been incorporated in the Bill that the Lokayukta could not be set up without the consent of the state. With several Opposition members continuing to interrupt the proceedings, the Chair adjourned the House for 15 minutes.

During the acrimonious debate, the BJP led the Opposition charge with Arun Jaitley saying the Bill as 'phoney' and a 'Constitutional cocktail'. In a sharp attack on the government on key points of the legislation, he questioned why the government wanted to control the appointment and removal procedure of the Lokpal.

"We don't want a weak and hollow law. We will oppose this with fervour. We are here today with the hope that the government's weak bill will be rejected by this House. But this House should also not leave today without delivering a strong law,'' Jaitley said.

The ruling dispensation fielded Abhishek Singhv to rebut Jaitley's arguments point by point. "Do you want to pass a Lokpal Bill or not? If you don't want to pass the bill, say so. Have the courage of your convictions and don't hide behind excuses," he said.

BSP's Satish Chandra Mishra argued that the CBI should not be under government control. CPM's Sitaram Yechury dubbed the present Bill as weak and called for a stronger legislation to combat corruption.

MARATHON Debate, but No result

What govt says

  • Lokpal, CBI & CVC can co-exist. A 70-year-old institution cannot cease to exist merely because a new institution is taking birth. Separation of investigation and prosecution is ideal
  • India is a union of states and not a federation of states. The Bill has been amended to provide for consent of states before Lokayuktas can be notified
  • Bill does not lay down any 'reservation' but merely states 'some or all' members of Lokpal should ideally represent the minorities and other sections
  • Not all NGOs and trusts will come under Lokpal.

Sticking points

  • CBI should be under Lokpal
  • Regional parties say it is an assault on federalism and states cannot be forced to accept Central laws
  • No minority quota in Lokpal
  • NGOs and trusts should not come under Lokpal





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