The Lokpal Bill, 2011, for creation of an ombudsman to check corruption in high places, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Thursday.
The introduction saw government and the opposition spar over inclusion of the Prime Minister under the purview of the ombudsman and protests by civil society activists outside.
Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj objected to the exclusion of the prime minister from the ambit of Lokpal. She sought to intervene ahead of the introduction under Rule 72 and Speaker Meira Kumar granted permission.
Swaraj argued that the Prime Minister does not enjoy exemption from prosecution under criminal law, IPC, CrPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act and there was no reason why an exemption must be made under Lokpal.
“It is for the first time that under Clause 2 of the Lokpal Bill, all Union ministers are included except the Prime Minister. I don’t understand why. How can anybody occupying any position be aholy cow? Why is the Prime Minister being kept out of its purview,” Swaraj asked.
Swaraj said Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who headed the standing committee on Lokpal in 2002, had accepted that the PM should be included under the purview of Lokpal. “The Prime Minister (( Manmohan Singh)) has himself said he wants to be within its ambit. Why is the Cabinet not paying heed to his views,” she asked. Pranab Mukherjee promptly responded saying that Swaraj was right. He added that the NDA government had two years to introduce the bill in that form and yet it failed to do so.
Swaraj said the opposition had many problems with the bill, but was at present focussing on the inclusion of the PM’s office.
Minister of State in the PMO V Narayanasamy said the bill would now go to the standing committee and any objection should be raised before that committee. Under the bill, the PM comes under the Lokpal after he demits office. The Lokpal Bill also has a seven-year time limit for complaints to be filed.
The Bill’s introduction in Parliament sparked off a wave of protests outside by civil society activists who were negotiating with the government for a ‘stronger’ anti-graft law.
The law, which has been mooted on several occasions in various forms for more than four decades now, found prompt acceptance after activist Anna Hazare went on an indefinite hunger strike, forcing the government to act.
On Thursday, displeased with the version of the bill favoured by the government, Hazare rallied against the government and vowed to resume his hunger strike on August 16, while supporters burned the draft bill introduced by the government in a series of protests in Maharashtra and the National Capital Region. Activists said nation-wide protests will be intensified in days to come.
Hazare said this was the last opportunity to eradicate corruption from the country and should not be missed. He also claimed that the government would have fallen had he continued his fast last time around for three more days. “I trusted them when they said they will bring a strong law and ended my fast in April.
They cheated me. But at the protest starting from August 16, I am not going to withdraw from my fast on some assurances. What we need is a strong bill,” Hazare said. Economic Times