War of words as Rajya Sabha debates Lokpal (Evening Lead)

December 29th, 2011 - 5:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi, Dec 29 (IANS) Two days after it was passed in the Lok Sabha, the Lokpal bill moved to the Rajya Sabha Thursday with the government trying hard to win the numbers game in a house where it is a minority and the opposition trashing the legislation as “constitutionally vulnerable”.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led opposition, represented by Arun Jaitley who initiated the debate, said the bill was weak but the house should not leave without “delivering a strong law”.

The government’s counter-charge was led by fellow lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress, the main brain behind the drafting of the bill. He accused the BJP of giving excuses not to pass the legislation.

Bahujan Samaj Party’s Satish Chandra Mishra argued that the CBI should not be under government control. CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury dubbed the present Lokpal bill weak and called for a stronger legislation to combat corruption.

The bill, providing for an anti-graft institution of an ombudsman at the central and state levels, will be put to vote after the debate.

In a 243-member house, the Congress and its allies have only 92 members, well short of the 122 magic number. It hopes for support from smaller parties such as the BSP and Samajwadi Party.

In a desperate bid to get legislative support, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee Thursday met Trinamool Congress MPs. But the Congress ally was determined to oppose the bill, saying it infringed on states’ rights.

Stating that the bill would create “constitutional havoc”, Jaitley opposed the minority quota in the Lokpal body and keeping the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) out of its purview.

He asked the government to accept the BJP’s amendments if it wanted the bill to sail through the upper house.

Trashing the bill clause-by-clause, Jaitley said the “Lokpal is designed to be vulnerable to constitutional challenge. Let us create an institution which is constitutionally possible”.

He said the provision that mandates states to create Lokayuktas on the model of the central government had “a grey area” that could lead to the central government usurping the powers of states.

On the quota provision that leaves not less than 50 percent of Lokpal members for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, minorities and women, Jaitley said it would make the law “vulnerable to constitutional challenge”.

Singhvi rebutted the charges and asked what he termed was the “fundamental question”: “Do you want to pass a Lokpal bill or not? If you don’t want to pass the bill, say so. Have the courage of your convictions and don’t hide behind excuses.”

He said the BJP was “creating a breeding ground for big-ticket corruption” by opposing the bill.

“Our conception is of a mutual interlocking checks-and-balances, a holy trinity of the Lokpal, (Central Vigilance Commission) CVC and the CBI.”

He said the government would have invited Jaitley, an eminent lawyer, to “help gift us a strong Lokpal as a birthday present”.

“But BJP is parsimonious in giving birthday presents. So don’t do it for our sake but join us in passing a Lokpal bill for the sake of the nation. No use putting a string of conditions in your statements. No use saying I want to pass a strong effective bill after three months, after referring it again to a committee, after further discussions,” Singhvi said.

“On process of the CBI and investigation, let’s look at it seriously, not with the intent to ridicule. The CBI is 70-year-old organisation. Should birth of a Lokpal mean automatic destruction of every other institution? A 10-year-old CVC, a 70-year-old CBI?” the Congress leader said.

Singhvi said the BJP wanted to create “a behemoth of unimaginable proportions” in comparison to which the Prime Minister’s Office would look like a “pygmy”.

“You want one Lokpal, subsume the CVC and CBI under it, move Citizen’s Charter under Lokpal, allow Lokpal suo moto power. Have prelim inquiry by Lokpal, actual investigation by Lokpal, prosecution by Lokpal. Thank god you did not say judgement must also come from Lokpal.”

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