Lokpal in Rajya Sabha, Congress in Trinamool tangle (Roundup)

December 28th, 2011 - 10:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Bahujan Samaj Party New Delhi, Dec 28 (IANS) The government Wednesday expressed confidence of mustering a majority in the Rajya Sabha to pass the Lokpal bill, a day after it faced an embarrassing defeat over a constitutional amendment bill in the lower house.

“The government has the numbers to pass the bill in the Rajya Sabha,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal told reporters, amid hectic meetings of top Congress leaders with the opposition and ally parties.

Government sources said they could manage the majority - provided the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, totalling 27 members, abstain from voting or walk out. In such a case, against a requirement of 109 members for majority, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) would have 114 members’ support in the upper house, the sources said.

The current strength of Rajya Sabha is 243, with two vacancies. With 27 members abstaining or walking out, the effective strength would become 216, and the half-way mark come down 108.

The ruling UPA has 95 MPs. Government sources said supported by independent and nominated members, their tally is likely to be 114.

The government, besides managing its own house, will be looking at the Bahujan Samaj Party (with 18), Rashtriya Janata Dal (four) and Samajwadi Party (five). The three parties had bailed out the government in the Lok Sabha by refusing to participate in the voting Tuesday, which brought down the number of members present and voting.

A walkout by these three parties in the Rajya Sabha will bring down the half way mark to 108.

Government sources said since the constitutional amendment bill was defeated in the Lok Sabha, they would not be moving it in the upper house. A constitutional amendment bill would require two-thirds of members present and voting, well above the half-way mark.

However, government sources said in case the bill is defeated in the Rajya Sabha, one of the options for the government is to convene a joint session of parliament to push the key anti-graft legislation.

Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance has 66 and the Left parties have 19 members in the Rajya Sabha.

Bansal, expressing confidence, said: “If the Rajya Sabha passes the Lokpal bill Thursday, the institution of Lokpal will become a reality”.

“We can amend the constitution later, whenever we have the numbers.”

The threat, however, comes to the government from its ally - the Trinamool Congress - which has sought deletion of a provision on setting up of state Lokayuktas.

Trinamool leaders Sudip Bandhopadhyay and Mukul Roy met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. However, what transpired at the meeting is not known.

The Trinamool Congress, which has six members in the upper house, was unambiguous in stating that the Lokayukta provision was as good as tampering with the federal structure and the party would seek scrapping of this clause.

Sources said the Trinamool Rajya Sabha members met at the residence of Mukul Roy, the union minister of state for shipping, to discuss the issue Wednesday.

The Trinamool wants the whole clause on Lokayuktas deleted. The party MPs wants nearly 14 pages of the bill which deals with Lokayuktas, or state anti-graft bodies, dropped. They also want the name of the bill to be changed to ‘Lokpal bill’ from the present ‘Lokpal and Lokayukta bill’.

Before the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, Finance Minister Pranab Mukhjerjee told the house the government had amended the provision, according to which the notification in this regard would not be released without the consent of state governments.

The government flip-flopped on taking up the bill in the Rajya Sabha. Though the bill never figured in the business list Wednesday, ministers spoke differently about possible debate on it.

In the end, the upper house finally declared that the bill will be taken up Thursday.

The announcement was made by Deputy Chairman K. Rehman Khan, before he adjourned the house for the day.

Earlier, even MPs were confused over when the bill was being taken up for consideration.

According to sources, the government was busy in floor management, talking to various parties to assess its strength in the upper house.

Other than party members, there are eight nominated and six independent members in ten Rajya Sabha.

Mukherjee also met Rajya Sabha Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley to garner support for the bill.

The BJP on its part was confident that the bill will fail in the Rajya Sabha as the ruling Congress did not have comfortable majority.

“We are confident that the ruling party does not have enough numbers in the Rajya Sabha. It (the Lokpal bill) shall fall. They (the Congress) will not be able to muster majority in the house,” BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu told reporters.

He refuted the Congress’ charge that his party has betrayed the government on the Lokpal bill.

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