For the ninth time in four decades, the government introduced the highly publicised anti-graft lokpal bill in the Lok Sabha on Thursday amid objections from the BJP and burning of its copies by Anna Hazare and his team.
With the introduction of the bill seeking to set up an anti-corruption watchdog at the national level, the government honoured its commitment made in April, but crossed swords as well with the opposition and also the Hazare-led group in the process.
The bill was introduced on eight previous occasions between 1968 and 2001, but lapsed each time with the dissolution of the respective Lok Sabha without any forward movement.
Within minutes of the bill being introduced, Hazare and his team burnt its copies in different parts of the country. “This is a bad and weak bill...I trusted them when they said they will bring a strong law and ended my fast in April. They cheated me,” Hazare said in his village in Maharashtra.
The government strongly disapproved of the action. “To burn this bill publicly is an insult to Parliament,” telecom minister Kapil Sibal told reporters.
The BJP challenged the constitutional validity of the bill, saying the government’s decision to exclude the prime minister from the lokpal’s ambit “violated constitutional equality”, but the government trashed the allegation, charging the BJP with indulging in “political opportunism and doublespeak.”
As soon as minister of state for personnel V Narayanasamy introduced the bill, leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj stood up against the exclusion of the prime minister from the ambit of the watchdog.
“While all other laws, such as the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act are applicable to all, why should the lokpal bill exclude the prime minister?” she asked.
Swaraj reminded the government that finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, in his capacity as chairman of a parliamentary standing committee in 2001, had recommended bringing the prime minister under the lokpal’s purview.
Mukherjee countered her by saying though her contention is true, but the NDA government had failed implement the recommendation for two years.
Narayanasamy said the bill, once introduced, was now a property of the House and it would be referred to a parliamentary standing committee, which could decide on all the issues raised by Swaraj.
Several opposition members supported Swaraj’s argument, but Speaker Meira Kumar overruled their objections and admitted the bill’s introduction.