After a pretty long time, the Congress-led UPA government had a comforting moment on Wednesday when the much-delayed lokpal bill was passed in Rajya Sabha with most of the Opposition on board.
Members of Rajya Sabha during the ongoing session of parliament in New Delhi. (PTI)
Since the anti-graft legislation underwent amendments during its course in Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha will consider it afresh on Wednesday.
After Lok Sabha’s approval, it will be sent to the President whose assent is necessary for it to become a law.
After an intensive debate during which the Opposition suggested changes and the only dissenting voice, the Samajwadi Party, walked out in protest, the bill was put to clause-by-clause voting before it was cleared.
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It became the first bill to be passed during the ongoing winter session of Parliament.
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.
Read | End in sight for Hazare's hunger strike
Law minister Kapil Sibal called it a historic moment, but stressed that corruption could not be removed by the lokpal alone. He said the government will deal with the "supply side" of corruption, as pointed out by CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury.
During the debate, leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley pointed to the “changed political atmosphere” he said had prompted the lawmakers to pass the bill.
He was possibly referring to Aam Aadmi Party’s stunning victory in Delhi polls and its strong anti-graft activism in collaboration with Anna Hazare before it became a political party.
“We must strive to bring a viable and credible lokpal bill… We need to remove all its faults and introduce a bill that is credible and functional,” Jaitley said.
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.
Renewed support for the bill came after civil servant turned corruption fighter 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.
Kejriwal pushed Congress into a distant third place, and even deprived the BJP of a majority in Delhi, underlining his potential to damage both of India's main parties when the country goes to the polls 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 Anna Hazare who led countrywide protests that tapped into a rich seam of public anger at corruption and caught Congress unawares.
Read: Anna Hazare thanks Rahul Gandhi for Lokpal commitment
Hazare was Tuesday into the eighth day of a hunger strike to push for the bill's passing, a successful move back in 2011 when his 12-day fast led to its introduction into Parliament.
The main provisions of the amended Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill
States to set up Lokayuktas by a law within 365 days
States have the freedom to determine the nature and type of Lokayukta
Imprisonment up to one year and a fine up to Rs. 1 lakh for false and frivolous complaints
Public servants can face imprisonment up to 7 years
Criminal misconduct and habitually abetting corruption can attract jail terms up to 10 years
Included: The Prime Minister, ministers, current and former MPs and MLAs, government employees, employees of companies funded or controlled by the Central government
Societies and trusts that collect public money, receive funding from foreign sources, and have an income level above a certain threshold
Excluded: Bodies creating endowments for or performing religious or charitable functions
Inquiry to be completed within 60 days and investigation to be completed within 6 months
Lokpal shall order an investigation only after hearing the public servant
Inquiry against the PM has to be held in-camera and approved by two-thirds of the full bench of the Lokpal
Lokpal can superintend the CBI in relation to the cases referred by it to the investigation agency
CBI officers investigating cases referred by the Lokpal can be transferred without the approval of the Lokpal
Lokpal can initiate prosecution through its Prosecution Wing before the Special Court. Trial to be completed within two years
All expenses to be charged to the Consolidated Fund of India (Funds available to the Lokpal will not be dependent on the annual budget voted by Lok Sabha)
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