The anti-corruption Lokpal Bill is unlikely to be passed in the Budget session of Parliament, which ends tomorrow. But the Lokpal storm continues, with the rulebook being waved by both Opposition and Treasury benches, tempers high.
The Bill came up in the Rajya Sabha on Monday evening, with Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (Pension, Personnel and Public Grievances) V Narayansamy, standing up to complete what he could not on December 29, the last day of an extended winter session. He said differences on various provisions had narrowed and several issues raised had been addressed. He then asked the House to pass the Bill. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is a member of the Upper House, was present in House.
The Samajwadi Party's Naresh Aggarwal immediately stood up and moved an amendment to the motion that the Bill be sent to a 15-member select committee of the House - he suggested 15 names - which would present its report to the House within three months. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) challenged the move. Much argument ensued as each side quoted rule after rule of House proceedings.
Earlier in the day, the government held talks with the BJP and the Left parties proposing five amendments. But differences over the role of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and on the creation of Lokayuktas still exist. The equation between the CBI and the Lokpal has been one of the biggest bones of contention - parties like the BJP want the chief of the CBI to be picked by a committee, instead of by just the government - changes like this, they argue, will ensure the autonomy of the CBI.
Also, the government proposed that the Bill be amended to give states the right to pass the bill in their own assemblies. So the Lokpal Bill passed by the Centre will not be enforced upon states. This will help pacify critics like Mamata Banerjee, who said that the bill would violate the principles of federalism if it was imposed upon states.
But the BJP reportedly objected saying such an amendment would be unconstitutional. It said such a move by Parliament would need at least two state assemblies passing a resolution on this.
The government, unlike the last session, had decided to talk to the Opposition before bringing the Bill to Parliament to evolve a consensus on its contours. Instead, sources said, a broad consensus seemed to emerge only on sending the Bill to a House select committee. The Samajwadi Party and the AIADMK had reportedly demanded that the bill be referred to a select committee; the BJP too finally gave its consent to doing that, sources said.
A select committee is a panel of MPs from the same House - in this case the Rajya Sabha - set up to look into a particular Bill.
In December, the government set aside just one day - the last day of the Winter Session of Parliament - in the Rajya Sabha to debate the high-profile bill that creates a national ombudsman or "Lokpal". There was chaos in the House leading to delays that meant the bill could not be put to a vote before the Winter Session expired. The government was accused of ducking vote because it knew it would lose.
The Lokpal's nine members will have the authority to investigate charges of corruption against government servants. The opposition had moved nearly 200 amendments to the bill in December.
Among the amendments that the government has now proposed, the process of removing a member of the Lokpal will now be initiated only if 100 MPs sign a petition supporting the cause. Earlier, any citizen could appeal for action against a member of the Lokpal.
The role of the CBI in investigating complaints of corruption has been modified slightly. Once the Lokpal receives a complaint from the public and accepts the complaint, it will forward the complaint to the CBI, which will investigate the complaint and then file a charge-sheet or closure report before the court. The agency will inform the ombudsman about what it determines. The closure report or the findings of the investigation, according to the government's third amendment, will now be shared not just with the Lokpal but with the relevant court as well.
The urgent need for a Lokpal Bill was championed heavily last year by activist Anna Hazare and his aides. After an attempt at co-writing the Bill with ministers failed, Team Anna prepped its own version of the Bill. Anna has stressed that the Bill in its current form is designed to fail in checking graft. His camp believes that the Lokpal Bill must apply uniformly to the Centre and all states, if it is to be effective.