Amid opposition, Lokpal bill tabled with minority quota (Lead)

December 22nd, 2011 - 7:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Anna Hazare New Delhi, Dec 22 (IANS) Amid stiff opposition, the government Thursday finally introduced in the Lok Sabha the much-debated Lokpal bill that envisages creation of anti-graft institutions at the central as well as state levels with a provision for including marginalised minorities and other sections as members.

The government also introduced a separate bill for amending the constitution to confer constitutional status to the proposed institutions. The bills would be taken up for a debate in the Lok Sabha Dec 27. Both houses meet Dec 27-29 to discuss the legislation.

“The (Lokpal) bill proposes to establish autonomous and independent institutions called Lokpal at the central level and Lokayukta for states. These shall have powers of superintendence and direction for holding a preliminary inquiry, causing an investigation to be made and prosecution of offences in respect of complaints under any law for the prevention of corruption,” according to the draft legislation.

The bill proposes to bring prime minister under the purview of the nine-member Lokpal but with specific exclusions.

The Lokpal cannot hold any inquiry against the prime minister if allegations relate to international relations, external and internal security of the country, public order, atomic energy and space.

According to the draft bill, 50 percent of members shall be from amongst Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC), minorities and women.

The government appeared to have done a flip-flop on the inclusion of minorities. It brought a corrigendum with the bill, to include the provision for minorities.

The Lokpal also has its jurisdiction to include all categories of government officers and employees but the investigation is to be done by Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).

While Anna Hazare dismissed the legislation as weak, many political parties opposed the move. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) strongly objected to the “unconstitutional” minority quota provision.

Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said the bill violated “federal principles as well” as it amounted to dictating to states to establish Lokayuktas.

“We are disappointed. This is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has given dozens of rulings stating that any reservation should not be more than 50 percent,” Sushma Swaraj said.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee dismissed the allegations levelled by many MPs, including Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), that the government was bringing the bill under duress and for the fear of agitation by social activist Anna Hazare.

He said the issue had been discussed at length for the last eight months and parliament in August had expressed its desire to have a strong Lokpal. “Somebody is talking about duress, somebody who advises me to be strong should advise political parties,” Mukherjee said.

“It is not undue haste. There is nothing illegal,” he said.

Lalu Prasad, who strongly fought for the inclusion of minorities in the bill, strongly opposed it saying it was not enough to tackle corruption.

He also opposed the inclusion of the prime minister under the Lokpal’s ambit. He demanded that ex-MPs should not be included within the Lokpal.

He also slammed Team Anna and asked the government not to get cowed down by threats of fresh protests.

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