The much awaited Lokpal bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday after a lengthy debate session of 11 hours that lasted almost till the stroke of the midnight hour by a voice vote after the government agreed to 10 amendments. The House also passed the Lokayukta Bill and Whistleblowers Bill were also passed successfully. However, the UPA government failed to garner the support of two-thirds majority which was required for the passage of the legislation designed to grant constitutional status to the ant-graft watchdog. Finance Minister lamented the failure to pass the bill that confers the constitutional status and said that it was “a sad day for India, a sad day for democracy.” It was Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi’s vision to establish the Lokpal as a constitutional body.
At least 15 Congress members and close to a dozen belonging to UPA allies were not present at the time of voting, contributing to the defeat of the brainchild legislation of Rahul Gandhi, who had termed it a “game-changer” in August, which proposed to make the Lokpal a constitutional body. The government needed a majority of 288 votes out of the 432 members present in the House. It could manage only 249, though there were 275 UPA members present in the Lok Sabha in the morning. The defeat led BJP leader Yashwant Sinha to demand that the government quit as it had lost moral authority. “Say bye, not aye,” he quipped.
Lokayuktas will not be notified until states concur according to the amended version of the Bill and the ruling party had already been warned by the UPA allies such as Trinamool Congress against the impressing Lokyuktas on states.
The amendment made to the selection panel for the Lokpal would now comprise of leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha in place of an eminent jurist – a suggestion 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.
Government also agreed to the amendment put forth by the BJP leader Sushma Swaraj to water down the provision which required three-fourths of Lokpal to agree to commence proceedings against the Prime Minister. The requirement has now been reduced to an agreement among two-thirds of the anti-corruption body. Section 24 which required presiding officers of legislatures to report to Lokpal action taken on reports filed against their members has been taken away.
The several amendments to the Bill appear to have left the bill as a feeble piece of legislation rather than the stringent legislation proposed by Team Anna. 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 get the approval in Rajya Sabha where the ruling alliance does not have a majority, before it becomes a law so the outcome of the anti-graft Bill will be at the clemency of the Opposition.
Report by Radhalakshmi R