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HindustanTimes Sun,13 Jul 2014

A to Z of lokpal bill: India's answer to fighting corruption

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, December 18, 2013
First Published: 12:51 IST(18/12/2013) | Last Updated: 16:07 IST(19/12/2013)

Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the lokpal bill, after eight unsuccessful attempts over the last five decades, a day after the anti-graft legislation underwent amendments during its course in Rajya Sabha.

The ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) joined forces in Lok Sabha in a rare display of unity to create a corruption ombudsman.

The Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011, was passed by voice vote amid din created by members from Seemandhra region who were protesting against division of Andhra Pradesh to create the state of Telangana.

After Lok Sabha's approval, it will now be sent to President Pranab Mukherjee whose assent is necessary for it to become a law.

It became the first bill to be passed during the ongoing winter session of Parliament.

Read: Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi hail passage of lokpal bill

The bill was already passed by Lok Sabha in December 2011 but it came to the House again as it underwent amendments before being approved by Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.

The measure got support from all parties except Samajwadi Party and Shiv Sena, whose members staged a walkout.

Read: What is lokpal bill


Debate amid walkouts

While batting for the measure, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said, "RTI was UPA's most important assault on corruption. Lokpal bill alone is not enough to fight corruption. What we need is a comprehensive anti-corruption code and the UPA government has prepared anti-corruption framework."

He said this was a chance to make history by passing the lokpal bill.

"This is about the anti-corruption framework and the framework of justice that we want to deliver to the country," he added.

He suggested extension of the winter session to pass six more bills which were "part of the comprehensive anti-corruption framework".

Speaking to media persons outside Parliament after the bill was passed, Gandhi said more bills were needed to curb corruption.

"We need more bills and we have the framework. Congress party has bills in the pipeline that need to be passed," said Gandhi.

"We've had big success with the lokpal bill, we had the RTI (Right to Information) earlier," he added.

Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj attacked Congress for clamouring to take credit for it and praised "the people of this country" for achieving the passage of the bill.

"The people of this country and the old man (Anna Hazare) who has undertaken fast several times deserve the credit," Swaraj said.

Speaking on the bill, Swaraj said her party had opposed the earlier lokpal bill as it was a weak legislation but she was happy that Rajya Sabha - where the opposition is in majority - had amended it suitably.

Law minister Kapil Sibal said discussion on the measure has taken place over past two years both inside and outside the House.

SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav said it will bring government work to a halt as government officials will be afraid of carrying out their duties.

"It will create a fear psychosis among the bureaucracy and no official will take a decision or sign a document," Yadav said, adding that as per the law, a low level policeman will be empowered to question and investigate senior politicians and public officials.

"This is a very serious issue... Why do we need this kind of bill," he said, demanding that the bill be withdrawn and taken after a thorough discussion in the next session of Parliament.

"I am surprised at the Opposition's support for this bill," Yadav said and urged senior BJP leader LK Advani to oppose it, as he led a walkout of the party's MPs.

The SP had walked out in protest against the legislation in the over five-hour long debate in Rajya Sabha as well.

Soon thereafter, Shiv Sena's Anant Geete also led a walkout of his party MPs.

JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav said he is supporting the bill as he does not wish to create any hurdle in the work of the government. He expressed certain reservations about the lokpal bill, including the provision of putting the Prime Minister under lokpal.

"By doing so, the accountability of the Prime Minister will not be to the House but somewhere else," he said.

Bahujan Samaj Party's Dara Singh Chouhan said there is a clamour for taking credit for this bill and "this is also a kind of corruption".

He noted that any policy, however good, is futile if those implementing it do not have good intentions.

Earlier when the bill was taken up for discussion and passage, Trinamool Congress member Sougata Roy raised a point of order saying that the measure passed by Rajya Sabha had been circulated among Lok Sabha members only on Wednesday.

Read: Anna Hazare, Rahul Gandhi exchange letters on Lokpal

He said that as per rules, a two-day notice should be given to members before taking up any legislation passed by the other House.

Disposing of his point of order, the Speaker said she had consented for waiving the two-day requirement and the bill was laid on the table of the House on Wednesday morning itself.

Throughout the debate on the lokpal bill, supporters and opponents of Telangana continued raising slogans in the Well.

YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy led his party members in the Well while TDP and Congress members, from Telangana and Seemandhra regions, continued shouting in support of their respective demands.

Bodoland Peoples Front's SK Bwiswmuthiary was also in the Well protesting attacks on tribals in Assam.


Anna Hazare breaks fast

Social crusader Anna Hazare, drank coconut water to break a nine-day fast that he was staging to push for the bill in Maharashtra's Ralegan Siddhi after the legislation was passed.

"This has been for the country... it has been a lot of work by a lot of people," Hazare told a rally that was a sea of jubilant supporters waving the Tricolour.

Read: Hazare breaks fast, leaves out Kejriwal in 'thank you' speech

Hazare had launched the hunger strike on December 10 and vowed to continue it until the bill was presented during the current winter session of Parliament and made into a law.

"I want to thank the Parliamentary Select Committee on behalf of the people of Ralegan Siddhi as well as the country," Hazare said.

He also thanked the members of Parliament for clearing the bill in both the Houses.

The social activist said that it will help tackle corruption in the country and the poor people will benefit from it.

Renewed support for the bill came after Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party trounced Congress in state polls in Delhi this month in a key test ahead of general elections due by May next year.

Kejriwal, who campaigned on a promise of cleaning up dirty politics, was a key member of the grass-roots movement that demanded the tough law back in 2011.

The campaign was spearheaded by Hazare who led countrywide protests that tapped into a rich seam of public anger at corruption and caught Congress unawares.


The law

The proposed law provides for a lokpal or national ombudsman to investigate corruption charges against public functionaries.

Among the amendments accepted by the government are delinking of the mandatory creation of lokayuktas by the state governments, one of the provisions which had stalled the passage of the bill in December 2011.

The bill was brought back to the Upper House after being considered by the Parliamentary Select Committee which recommended several amendments to make it widely acceptable among political parties.

When Lok Sabha had passed it in December 2011, it had urged the House to adopt the bill returned by Rajya Sabha along with the amendments.

The bill aimed at dealing with the menace of corruption brings under its purview the Prime Minister, with certain safeguards, and other public servants.

(With PTI, AFP and IANS inputs)

HT Analysis: Why Lokpal could not be postponed further



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