The popular Lokpal movement which stoked public anger at India’s scandal-prone leaders this year resulted in the bill being tabled in the parliament today. Anna Hazare, not happy with the current bill threatened today to renew protests at what he sees as diluting the Lokpal bill, a move that could blight the government’s New Year and the elections in crucial state of UP in 2012.
The Lokpal movement and the anti-corruption agenda have virtually kept the Indian government on its toes since January this year. A series of corruption cases in the past two years highlighted by the 2G spectrum scandal with estimated potential revenue loss of up to $39 billion to the government has fuelled the cause and thus the tabling of the bill.
The theme emerging from the proceedings of the house was the unease across the political parties cutting across party lines in dealing with the Lokpal bill. Going by the applause RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta and Shiv Sena leader Anant Geete evoked following their attacks on Anna Hazare and his tactics, the political class was visibly anti-Lokpal. The treasury benches including the Congress president and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi repeatedly thumped their desks as Lalu and Dasgupta ridiculed Hazare. This despite the fact that they had gathered to pass the bill under pressure from the very same Hazare.
Highlights of the UPA Government’s Lokpal bill
– The 74-page Lokpal Bill is divided into two parts –
(1) the constitutional amendment bill
(2) the institution of Lokpal and Lokayuktas
– The 116th amendment seeks to give constitutional status to Lokpal – a new nine-member ombudsman agency that will receive complaints from the public about corrupt government servants and act on them. The constitutional amendment bill needs 2/3 majority – so government will need support of opposition parties to get this bill passed.
– The second part of the bill deals with the institution of Lokpal and Lokayuktas, who will serve as anti-corruption agencies in states. A simple majority in the house is needed to get this part of the bill passed.
– The government has decided on 50% reservation in the lokpal – for Scheduled Castes and Tribes (SCs/STs), women, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and minorities.
– However the constitution does not allow for reservation on the basis of religion and to get this amendment passed, the Government will need a two-third majority. This could also affect the poll prospects of the parties going to polls in the crucial state of UP next year. Therefore they will make a big deal out of this. BJP is unlikely to support this. However all parties which indulge in communcal politics and bank on muslim votes are likely to support this bill.
– The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will not be controlled administratively by Lokpal. The Government will continue to have control over the CBI in terms of its budget, transfers and postings of officials etc.
– The CBI director is to be to be chosen by panel of PM, Leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of India. Team Anna wants the Chief Justice to be replaced by the Lokpal chief which is not acceptable to the Government.
– There will be no separation of prosecution and investigative wings of CBI. The Lokpal will have the right to conduct preliminary inquiry through an inquiry wing, made up of police officers and then can refer cases to other agencies like the Central Vigilance Commission.
– Lokpal cannot initiate proceedings against an officer on its own; a complaint has to be lodged with the ombudsman before it orders an inquiry.
Let’s check out the contentious issues and see who stands where on this bill.
Inclusion of Prime Minister
Government’s bill: Government’s bill includes prime minister under Lokpal with his actions in international affairs. External or internal security, public order, atomic energy and space are exempt from Lopal’s purview. Team Anna wants the PM under Lokpal. BJP supports Team Anna’s stance on inclusion of the PM. SP and RJD have opposed to include the PM under Lokpal. Shiv Sena has questioned the very need for the Lokpal bill.
Considering that the Prime Minister of any country should be non-corrupt and honest this shouldn’t be a major issue for any political party. This is the logic that Team Anna and the BJP are batting for. But for some reason many congressmen and other opposition parties seem to oppose the inclusion of the PM under the Lokpal. Not that there aren’t any checks and balances in the current system. We do have all sorts of checks and balances, but the fact of the matter is that all these agencies and departments are appointed and managed by the Government. So it’s anyone’s guess if they can ever be impartial.
Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – inclusion of the CBI under Lokpal
Government’s bill does not include CBI under Lokpal and has instead given it a separate inquiry wing. It can also refer cases to CBI for further inquiry. CBI still reports to the government which fails one basic purpose – it can’t investigate the very people it is reporting to. Team Anna wants the CBI to be directly under Lokpal to give it the required claw. BJP the principal opposition party wants to split the anti-corruption wing of the CBI and bringing it under Lokpal. SP/RJD are both opposed to the CBI being under Lokpal or splitting it.
It has been alleged that the ruling party uses the offices of the CBI to arm twist and control smaller regional parties. If this has any truth in it, then it implies that most political parties have some skeletons hidden in their closet which the Government exploits. However if the CBI is independent of the Government, then they would be able to investigate and prosecute the offenders effectively, thus reducing corruption.
“If the CBI is outside then how will the Lokpal be strong. This system will save corrupt politicians. If CBI comes under Lokpal then P Chidambaram would be in jail. You are saving corrupt politicians and say it is a strong Lokpal,” said Anna Hazare.
Lower bureaucracy – inclusion of the lower bureaucracy under Lokpal
Government’s bill has brought the lower bureaucracy under the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) with the superintendence of Lokpal. Team Anna wants the lower bureaucracy to be under Lokpal. JP supports Team Anna’s stance on this issue. SP/RJD have not expressed any clear stand on the issue.
Minorities’ reservation in Lokpal
Government’s bill has included 50% reservation for backward castes and minorities at the last minute after some political parties demanded it. Team Anna: The Team Anna’s draft has been silent on reservation. BJP has protested reservation for minorities in Lokpal, stating that it is not in constitution to provide reservation based on religion. SP/RJD are the most vocal in raising the issue of reservation for minorities. The communist parties have supported the reservation for the minorities in the Lokpal.
Citizens’ Charter Bill
The Government’s bill doesn’t include the citizens’ charter bill. They want to bring a separate citizens’ charter bill. Team Anna took strong exception to government bringing a separate Citizens’ Charter Bill, saying a common man will have to run from pillar to post to get his grievances redressed under the proposed system. They want it to be a part of the Lokpal.
“How can the Lokpal be effective when Citizens Charter is out of its purview. A person will have to go through various levels for redressal of his grievances..what to do? Its like fooling people,” said Anna Hazare.
Mandatory provision of Lokayuktas
The Government’s bill has proposed this in the bill. The opposition parties including the BJP, RJD, BJD, AIMIM, DMK, AIADMK, CPM, Shiv Sena, JD(U) & TDP opposed the mandatory provision of Lokayuktas saying it was an attack on the federal structure of the Constitution.
Lokpal – Who said what?
Anna Hazare – Team Anna
“Sonia Gandhi says the bill is strong. If it is so, let her come out and debate with us in front of media,” Hazare told reporters in his home village. “Convince the people of the country that it is strong. We will explain how it is not strong.”
Kiran Bedi – Team Anna
“What you are seeing is nothing unexpected. It may go the Women’s Bill way. There is no unity, no consensus on the issue.”
“It appears that statusquo suits those in position and power.”
“We will go on agitating, we will go on making people aware, the people are the voters, the more informed they are the more informed decision they will make when they go to vote”
Sonia Gandhi – President of the Congress Party
“We are being criticized and attacked for not tackling the scourge of corruption. This is deliberate and malicious misinformation.”
“I will fight for Lokpal and women’s reservation issue.”
Sri Sri Ravishankar – yoga guru and spiritual leader
There are people in the government who are against corruption. They should pursue the matter so that the bill is issued in Parliament. I do not see why there should not be strong Lokpal bill, because people want it.”
Sushma Swaraj – Leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Leader of opposition (Lok Sabha)
“Reservation based on the basis of religion is not allowed constitutionally.”
“It is important we make a law that is not patently unconstitutional and later rejected in the court of law.”
Pranab Mukherjee – Finance Minister, Govt. of India
“This is not just a piece of law. There is an agitation on in the country for the Bill and a committee has been working to bring this Bill. If a bill is struck by courts it doesn’t mean that Parliament doesn’t pass the bill. It is for the courts to judge the constitutionality of a Bill. Our job is to make and pass the bill. Let the court do their job, we will do our job.”
Mulayam Singh Yadav leader of Samajwadi Party
“This bill puts the PM under the Lokpal which is against the Constitution provision. What is the guarantee that all the member of Lokpal will be honest and will it not emerge as bigger a threat to the Constitution? So I ask the government not to present this Bill.”
Laloo Prasad Yadav, leader of Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD)
“How can five people (Team Anna) challenge the Parliament?”
“Media should be kept out of lokpal bill, but bring NGOs into it.”