Thursday, December 22, 2011

Government, parliament in a tizzy over Lokpal Bill

It was clear that Government was in a mess over the revised Lokpal Bill. The BJP seems to have apparently forced the Congress to remove the inclusion of minorities in the reservation quota for the Lokpal. Then Rashtriya Lok Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad Yadav raised a mini-storm in the morning when the Lok Sabha met to discuss the constitutional amendment bill for cooperatives which was passed after much confusion. There was no Question Hour.

The business agenda listed only the withdrawal of the Lokpal Bill. Lalu shouted that minorities cannot be omitted and that Muslims must get a representation.

Later Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav got up to say that it is the UPA government that has set up the Sachar Commitee and that the governmet should include Muslims in the Lokpal setup.

The House was adjourned till 2 in the afternoon and the again till 3.30. Minister for parliamentary affairs Pawan Bansal, minister in the prime minister's office (PMO) V. Narayanasamy were moving to and fro, quite harassed and not knowing what was happening. A senior cabinet minister revealed that the word 'minorities' was removed one-and-half hours earlier.

At 3.30 BJP's Sushma Swaraj and leader of opposition in Lok Sabha got up to make her objections to the moving of the Lokpal Bill under Rule 72 saying that the inclusion of minorities was against the Constitution which does not allow reservations on the basis of religion. She cautioned the Leader of the House and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee not to legislate something that will be struck down by the courts. She also said that the Lokpal Bill also contained the Lokayuktas under Article 253 of the Constitution which made it mandatory for the states to accept the model law that the parliament makes. Swaraj said that this provision should come under Article 252, which makes it optional.

Pranab Mukherjee responding to Swaraj said that parliament has the competence to make any law and it is not necessary for it to look at what the courts would say. If the courts find that a particular legislation is not according to the Constitution then it will strike it down. Parliament can make the necessary amendments and even make a new law overruling the court. He also reminded that it was due to Anna Hazare's fast that parliament on August 27 wanted a string Lokpal bill to be passed.

Lalu Yadav once again spoke at length, arguing that parliament should not make a Lokpal under pressure from Anna Hazare and took potshots at Hazare. He did not want the prime minister to be under Lokpal's jurisdiction, and said that the prime minister is the leader of the country and the prime minister's office cannot be brought under anyone else's control. He also warned L.K.Advani that he would face a problem too if the Lokpal is passed. Lalu Yadav's speech was cheered by backbenchers from the Congress, BJP and other parties in the House.

Asaduddin Owaisi of Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen argued the case that minorities constitute 19 per cent of the population, and that they should rightfully get their representatation. It cannot be said that minorities are not capable of fighting corruption, he said.

An angry Yashwant Sinha from the BJP said that the change with regard to minorities that the government literally brought in an amendment under the guise of a corrigendum. Mukherjee admitted that it was a mistake and corrigenda is confined to spelling mistakes and factual errors.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) leader in the House, Gurudas Das Gupta said that parliament should not pass a Lokpal under duress. He said that there can be only one Father of the Nation, and Hazare was pretending to be one.

Biju Janata Dal's Bhatrihari Mahtab was against the Lokayukta provision because it intrudes into powers of the state and this is a matter of concern.

At the end of it all, Narayanasamy moved for introduction of the Lokpal bill.

The debate lasted from 3.30 pm to 5 pm.

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