NEW DELHI: Brushing aside questions of legislative competence, the government on Thursday introduced in the Lok Sabha a historic bill for inquiring into corruption by Prime Minister, ministers, MPs and its employees but buckled under pressure from non-BJP parties to restore the provision of quota for minorities.
It, however, did not yield to civil society’s demand for control over the CBI by the Lokpal which can only refer to the agency complaints received by it.
The Minister of State for Personnel, Mr V Narayanasamy tabled ‘the Lokpal and Lokayuktas bill, 2011’ that also mandates the states to appoint a Lokayukta along with a Constitution (amendment) bill to provide constitutional status for both Lokpal and Lokayuktas.
The introduction of the bill was preceded by high drama when non-BJP parties forced the government to restore the provision for reservation for minorities in the 50 per cent quota for appointment to the nine-member Lokpal bench, which was dropped on Wednesday night by the government after consultations with the BJP.
Raising questions before introduction during a 90-minute debate, the leader of opposition, Ms Sushma Swaraj attacked the reservation for minorities and the mandatory provision of creation of Lokayuktas as infringing on the states’ rights while parties like RJD, SP, AIMIM and AIADMK opposed bringing Prime Minister under the purview of a body which would be "accountable to nobody".
Shiv Sena, which questioned the very need for Lokpal, RJD, BJD, AIMIM and AIADMK opposed the mandatory provision of Lokayuktas saying it was an attack on the federal structure of the Constitution.
The non-BJP parties questioned the tearing hurry with which the government was going through with passage of these bills under pressure and threat of agitation from Mr Anna Hazare- led civil society.
Taking the floor in defence of the government, leader of the House and Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee dismissed criticism that the measures were being brought in "undue haste" and saying that the government was under "no duress".
"If you feel it is not necessary, we will not have it. Legislation is the domain of Parliament. It is not made on the dharna manch or on the streets," he said.
After the minister’s reply to the impromptu debate, the House allowed introduction of the Lokpal bill by voice vote. The government also withdrew the Lokpal bill introduced in August this year.
After 43 years and nine attempts, the Lokpal bill may finally come up for discussion in Parliament when it resumes after the Christmas break on December 27.
The financial memorandum attached to the 97 clause, 65 page bill says that while it is not possible to give the precise details of the expenditure to be incurred on Lokpal at this stage, it is expected that it would involve a non-recurring expenditure of Rs 100 crore and a recurring expenditure of Rs 200 crore in a financial year.
An additional expenditure of Rs 400 crore would be needed if it becomes necessary to construct a building to house the establishment of the Lokpal.
After the non-BJP parties attacked the government over dropping of the provision for minority quota in the nine-member Lokpal bench and in the search committee and forced adjournment of the House, the Congress core group chaired by the party chief, Ms Sonia Gandhi met in Parliament House to reverse the decision.
On Wednesday, a three-member delegation led by Mr L K Advani had met Mr Mukherjee and raised the issue of constitutional validity of the reservation for minorities on the basis of religion following which the government decided to drop it.
The issue came up at a dinner the Congress chief hosted for party MPs on Wednesday night. She is understood to have asked why the government has decided to drop the provision and expressed her apprehensions that the move may come in for attack from parties in Parliament.
However, BJP member, Mr Yashwant Sinha questioned the amendment on the minorities provision through a corrigenda saying only spelling mistakes and grammar can be corrected in such a way.