TV grab of Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as he speaks during the discussion on lokpal bill in Lok Sabha in New Delhi. PTI
The formation of anti-corruption watchdog lokpal moved closer to reality after Lok Sabha passed the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill while rejecting a constitutional amendment seeking to give it constitutional status. Lok Sabha also passed a bill that seeks to protect whistleblowers, also part of the anti-corruption framework that the UPA government has been trying to put in place.
An acrimonious debate that went into late, foggy hours of the capital's winter night ended with the government and opposition finding common ground on conflicting positions on several key provisions and the government moving 10 amendments to the original lokpal bill, addressing concerns of several leaders.
According to the amended version, lokayuktas will not be notified until states concur.
The opposition and UPA allies such as the Trinamool Congress had warned the government against "imposing" lokayuktas on states.
The selection panel for the lokpal would now include leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha in place of an eminent jurist - a proposal by leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj.
The armed forces would be specifically excluded from the purview of the lokpal - a lacuna pointed out by RJD chief Lalu Prasad. The legislation has already been rejected by anti-corruption campaigners led by Anna Hazare as "weak".
Hazare has sought at least four key changes before his agitation could be withdrawn.
The bill will also have to sail through choppy seas in Rajya Sabha where the ruling alliance does not have a majority, before it becomes a law.
However, if the SP and BSP members walk out of the House during voting as they did in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the bill will be passed.
In a spirited defence of the lokpal bill that came under attack not only from the opposition but also from allies Trinamool Congress and DMK, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said this might not be the perfect version, but was a good one.
"We have waited for 40 years and cannot wait any longer. The pursuit for the best cannot be an excuse for delaying a good one," he said, tearing into the opposition's arguments.
The minister said the BJP has been inconsistent in its approach, having attacked the government for engaging the activists led by Hazare at one time and endorsing the street protests at another.
Lok Sabha began voting on the bills around 10pm after a 10-hour debate that had 38 speakers and saw heated exchanges, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's intervention at 4.40pm indicated the government's resolve to press ahead despite stiff opposition, primarily on the question of constitution of lokayuktas in the states.
"Legal sophistry cannot be used to argue that state legislatures must not adopt the model law proposed, or delay its enforcement. Let us endorse the bill as proposed," the PM said.
The opposition proposed nearly 90 amendments in all and the voting process for the three bills went on for nearly two hours, ending close to midnight.
Alleging that the bill "attacks the federal structure of the state", Sushma Swaraj demanded that the bill be referred back to the parliamentary standing committee for re-consideration.
"The BJP is not interested in having effective lokayuktas in the states," union minister Kapil Sibal charged. UPA allies, including the Trinamool and DMK made common cause with the opposition parties on the issue.
Most opposition members wanted the CBI to be freed of government control, but opinion was divided on whether the agency should be brought under the lokpal.
Members wanted deletion of Section 24, which requires the lokpal to send reports on charge-sheeted MPs to the presiding officers of the two houses of Parliament, asking them to take action against the member.
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