Lok Sabha votes in favour of anti-graft legislation, next stop Rajya Sabha.
History was made on Tuesday as the Lok Sabha passed a bouquet of anti-corruption legislation, including the creation of an ombudsman, the Lok Pal, a mechanism to appoint him and detail his powers and functions, and putting in place a Bill to protect whistle-blowers.
However, much to the shock and embarrassment of the government, the Bill to give constitutional backing to the Lok Pal and Lokayukta, the pet project of Rahul Gandhi, fell through because two-thirds majority could not be garnered.
Sources said the government knew it may not be able to muster the numbers but wanted to make a political point, something Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee made a point to highlight, underlining the Bharatiya Janata Party’s role in the fall of the Bill.
In a remarkable tribute to Indian democracy, bowing before public opinion inside and outside Parliament, the government itself brought as many as 10 amendments to incorporate various suggestions. These included addressing a fear that federalism and the right of states to make laws would be abridged because of a clause in the Bill that made it mandatory for states to adopt the Central law. The government amended this to make it optional for state governments to notify the law. Effectively, this means that those state government that do not want to adopt the Central law are free to have their own.
The government also moved an amendment to drop Section 24 of the Lok Pal Bill, which allowed action to be taken against members of Parliament and ministers even before their being tried on complaints of corruption. It exempted the armed forces from the purview of the Lok Pal Bill, a suggestion made by Lalu Prasad Yadav of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party walked out before the vote.
The three Bills were brought after a moderate turnout in Mumbai, where the Anna Hazare-led India Against Corruption held a fast and Delhi where only a small crowd gathered at the Ramlila Maidan. The fervour of Hazare’s earlier meetings was noticeably absent. Hazare’s health worsened late in the night in Mumbai, but he overruled suggestions that he call off the fast.
The Parliament debate ended with a passionate speech by leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee who rebutted the charge that the Lok Pal would be a ‘sarkari Lok Pal’ just because the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House were on the search committee for the Lok Pal. “Those who speak of parliamentary sovereignty and assert the right to make laws are questioning the presence of the Prime Minister and the Speaker on the committee to select the Lok Pal? I do not understand this logic,” Mukherjee said.
He said the Prime Minister had initiated a new direction in parliamentary democracy by reaching out to civil society. “We do not consider civil society to be outside democracy. It is a part of democracy like Parliament or a free press,” he said. The government’s next challenge will be to get the Bills passed in the Rajya Sabha.
Anna’s agitation faces abrupt end
The Anna Hazare agitation seemed to be facing an early close even as the Lok Sabha passed the Lok Pal Bill. Hazare’s deteriorating health, rather than the House vote, may force the protests to come to an end. The government's amendments did not impress Hazare-led activists. Core committee member Prashant Bhushan said if the Bill did not provide investigative powers to the Lok Pal, the protests would continue. Asked if the planned 'jail bharo' was still on, Bhushan said, “Probably.”