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Scaling Samajwadi scare, Lokpal bill moves from RS to Lok Sabha

New Delhi, Dec. 17: The Rajya Sabha today passed the amended Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill amid a spirit of bonhomie between the government and Opposition benches after a walkout by the Samajwadi Party, the sole objector.

The bill, which promises to punish corruption by public servants, including the Prime Minister, met with hardly any resistance. Only the Samajwadis protested saying the bill would deter ministers and bureaucrats from taking decisions for fear of investigation and action by the Lokpal.

Samajwadi members left the House before law minister Kapil Sibal argued in favour of the bill.

The government had introduced the original bill in 2011 in the Lok Sabha, which had passed it. However, the bill could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha and was referred to a parliamentary select committee headed by Satyavrat Chaturvedi of the Congress and including the BJP’s Arun Jaitley and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s S.C. Mishra.

On the committee’s recommendations, the bill has now been amended. The amended bill will be tabled in the Lok Sabha tomorrow.

Sibal explained the key provisions of the bill and said all public servants would come under its purview.

Jaitley, leader of the Opposition in the House, said the Samajwadis’ fears were misplaced. He hoped the ministers and bureaucrats would take responsible decisions that would enhance accountability in the system.

He praised the leeway the amended version gives to the states in setting up their Lokayuktas. The states have a year’s time to do so after the central law comes into force, and will be allowed some flexibility over the modalities although the Centre will send a model bill for possible adoption by them.

“In this bill, it is evident that federalism and the battle against corruption can co-exist,” Jaitley said.

Jaitley defended the government’s decision to exclude NGOs, religious and charitable trusts and private organisations from the Lokpal’s ambit.

“Our select committee felt that the inclusion of private entities would burden the Lokpal,” he said.

The BJP leader, however, criticised the government for the provision that says the Lokpal should hear out the accused public servant before starting a preliminary inquiry.

“In case of an allegation of a bribe or disproportionate assets, you need not give any chance to the accused to explain” themselves before starting an inquiry, he said.

CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, however, said the Lokpal should investigate corruption by corporate bodies relating to funds received from the government — say, for example, for public-private partnership projects. He moved an amendment on this subject but it was defeated.

Trinamul Congress leader Sukhendu Sekhar Roy welcomed the elbowroom given to the states over the Lokayuktas. But he questioned the provision that half the Lokpal members should be retired Supreme Court judges.

“A former Supreme Court judge is accused of sexual harassment. Still, he is holding the high office of the human rights commission in Bengal. The government should have a re-look at this provision,” Roy said.

He also questioned the provision that bars people’s representatives from membership of the Lokpal, saying this was a stigma on the fraternity.

Sibal explained that people’s representatives were often accused of irregularities: so, making them Lokpal members could lead to a conflict of interest.

AIADMK leader V. Maitreyan ribbed the government, saying it hadn’t been serious about the bill till the rout in the recent Assembly elections.

Maitreyan said the Prime Minister and the chief ministers should not be brought under the Lokpal bill’s ambit. When Tamil Nadu passes its Lokayukta bill, it will keep the chief minister out of its purview, he said.

Janata Dal (United) member Shivanand Tiwary said greed was the main reason for corruption and stressed the need to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich.

Sibal thanked all the parties for their support and said the government would bring in laws to protect whistleblowers and to address public grievances.