By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: With most political parties at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s all-party meet on March 23 in favour of separating the institution of Lokayuktas in states from the much debated bill to set up a Lokpal, the cabinet has to now take a call on the issue.
“Most parties want separation of the Lokayukta from the Lokpal bill… the government is yet to formulate its view on the all party deliberations… the cabinet will take a call on it,” a minister told IANS. He did not wish to be identified.
The government has said it wants to pass the Lokpal bill during the second half of this budget session April 24-May 22 after the budget 2012-13 is passed. The prime minister had called an all-party meet to build a consensus on the Lokpal bill which could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha in the winter session last year after it was approved by the Lok Sabha.
Well placed sources told IANS that the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, which is piloting the bill, will take to the cabinet the amendments suggested by the political parties at the prime minister’s meet.
Once the cabinet gives its nod, the amended bill will go to the Rajya Sabha for consideration and passage. As the upper house of parliament would pass an amended bill, it would have to be sent back to the Lok Sabha.
But there is a catch.
The Lok Sabha in its own wisdom may approve the amended bill, decide to debate it or reject it altogether, said parliamentary sources.
The officials said the Lokayukta was made part of the Lokpal bill, 2011, as there was no uniformity in the various Lokayukta acts in the states. The move was also necessitated as a ‘Sense of the House’ communicated by the prime minister to Anna Hazare Aug 27, 2011, included setting up of Lokayuktas in states to deal with corruption.
Within the United Progressive Alliance government, the strongest votary of separating the Lokayukta from the Lokpal bill is Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, which had supported the bill in the Lok Sabha but opposed the legislation in the Rajya Sabha saying it went against the concept of federal autonomy.
While opposition parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Communist Party of India, AIADMK, Telugu Desam Party, Akali Dal and the Janata Dal-United favoured separate Lokayuktas, even UPA allies DMK and the National Conference were of similar view.
While both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which support the UPA from outside, wanted a separate Lokayukta, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Lok Janshakti Party opposed the bill saying it was being rushed through under Anna’s pressure.
Some parties had also suggested referring the bill to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha but sources said the move may delay the legislation by another year.
Trinamool Congress’ Rajya Sabha MP Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, who attended the prime minister’s all-party meeting, said his party is not against either Lokpal or Lokayukta but wants state assemblies to enact Lokayukta acts.
He said 20 out of 28 states have already enacted a Lokayukta law.
Roy told IANS, “The majority view was to separate the Lokayukta from the Lokpal bill…the Lokayukta should be left to the domain of states keeping in mind the federal spirit of the Constitution…If the government concedes this demand, we will support the Lokpal bill in the Rajya Sabha.”
The government should not make it a prestige issue,” he said.