A landmark bill for creation of Lokpal was passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday night with the government making it clear that setting up of Lokayuktas by the states would not be mandatory, amending a contentious provision in view of opposition from allies and others.
The Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011 was approved after the government moved a few other key amendments, including keeping the defence forces and coast guard personnel out of the purview of the anti-graft ombudsman and increasing the exemption time of former MPs from five to seven years.
A number of amendments moved by Opposition, including corporates, media and NGOs receiving donations, were defeated.
Samajwadi Party and BSP staged a walkout, protesting against their demands not being met.
During the animated over 10-hour debate, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked parties to “rise above partisan politics” to demonstrate to the people of the country that “this House means business” in its effort to combat corruption.
He said a “holistic” approach was needed to deal with the “cancer” of corruption but rejected demands for bringing CBI under the purview of Lokpal as he warned that no entity should be created inconsistent with the Constitutional framework.
Capping the 10-hour animated debate during which several parties, including BJP, BJD, JDU, RJD, SP, TDP and Left said the bill was weak and wanted it withdrawn, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee rejected the contention that the legislation had been brought in “haste” or under pressure.
Allaying fears of several parties, including UPA constituents Trinamool and DMK, that the provision for setting up Lokayuktas was an “attack” on federal structure, he said the government had made amendments stating that notification would not be issue without the consent of state governments.
The amendment, along with some others, was decided during an emergency meeting the Prime Minister held with party Chief Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders ahead of the voting in view of opposition by allies.
This is the ninth Lokpal Bill introduced in government in a series that started as early as 1968 and ended in 2001. Seven of them lapsed with the dissolution of the Lok Sabha while one was withdrawn.
“There are some very special moments in the life of a nation. This is one such moment. The nation waits with bated breath how the collective wisdom of this House will be reflected in the vote at the end of the debate on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011,” Singh said.
Noting that the broad provisions of this Bill have been vigorously debated both in the public domain and by political parties, he underlined that the task of legislation was “very serious business and must eventually be performed by all of us who have been constitutionally assigned this duty.”
In an apparent message to Hazare who has been pressing his demands with regard to Lokpal, Singh said, “others can persuade and have their voices heard. But the decision must rest with us.”
He warned that “no entity should be created inconsistent with our constitutional framework and charged with onerous executive responsibilities without any accountability… Let us not create something that will destroy all that we cherish all in the name of combating corruption. Let us remember that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
He said, “Today we are given to believe that a Government that is directly elected by the people and accountable to it cannot be trusted but a body that will not derive its legitimacy from the people directly or be accountable to it could be trusted to wield its immense powers with honour and trust.”