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Rajya Sabha adjourned sans Lokpal

Friday, December 30, 2011

/ Published by Simon L Infimate
NEW DELHI, DEC 29 (IANS): The Rajya Sabha was adjourned sine die amid chaos at midnight Thursday without passing the long-awaited Lokpal bill.

Chairman Hamid Ansari adjourned the Rajya Sabha sine die after a ruckus in the house ahead of the scheduled vote on the contentious Lokpal bill. “There appears to be a desire to out-shout each other,” Ansari said, as members were shouting at one another with the government citing “constitutional procedures” to allow the house function past midnight on the last day of the winter session.

“The house cannot be conducted now. That requires orderly proceedings. The chair has no option, must reluctantly... I am afraid I cannot do anything we better all go home. The house is adjourned sine die,” he said.

Earlier, the fate of the long-discussed Lokpal bill, passed in the Lok Sabha two days ago, appeared uncertain with the government trying desperately to win the numbers game in the Rajya Sabha where it is in a minority and the opposition and even some of its allies giving notices for as many as 173 amendments.

The battlelines were clearly drawn with the government pushing hard for its bill, providing for the anti-graft institution of an ombudsman at the centre and states, and the opposition trashing it as “constitutionally vulnerable”.

Official sources said notices have been given for 173 amendments to the bill, introduced by the government in the upper house in the morning. Apart from opposition parties, notices for amendments that would change the very nature of the legislation have been given by its ally Trinamool Congress as well as the Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Left and the BJP.

While the Trinamool Congress is part of the Congress-led UPA, SP and RJD support the government from outside. In the 243-member upper house of parliament, the Congress and its allies have only 92 members, well short of the 122 magic number. It hopes for support from smaller parties such as the BSP and SP.

As the debate continued inside the house, efforts were also on outside to resolve the logjam over the long-discussed legislation. “We admit we don’t have the numbers in the Rajya Sabha. But we are trying our best to get the bill passed. Our intentions are honest,” Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla said as speculation mounted that the bill would now be pushed to the budget session next February.

A key rallying point is the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, which has six MPs in the Rajya Sabha and has sought deletion of a provision on setting up of state Lokayuktas. This has been the issue that has found resonance with most regional parties as well as the BJP.

Informed sources said Trinamool Congress members have moved amendments to the bill on provisions that it considers impinge on the federal structure of the constitution and the power of the states to enact their own legislation. “If Trinamool Congress presses its amendments, the government will face problems,” a BJP leader told IANS.

Stating that the bill would create “constitutional havoc”, BJP leader Arun Jaitley opposed the minority quota in the Lokpal body and keeping the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) out of its purview. He said the provision that mandates states to create Lokayuktas on the model of the central government had “a grey area” that could lead to the central government usurping the powers of states.

Singhvi rebutted the charges and asked what he termed was the “fundamental question”: “Do you want to pass a Lokpal bill or not? If you don’t want to pass the bill, say so. Have the courage of your convictions and don’t hide behind excuses.”

The Congress spokesperson said the BJP wanted to create “a behemoth of unimaginable proportions” in comparison to which the Prime Minister’s Office would look like a “pygmy”.

With political consensus not just eluding, but parties at odds, on the final shape and powers of the Lokpal, Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan, himself a Supreme Court lawyer, despaired: “From whatever we have seen so far in Rajya Sabha, I don’t think the Lokpal bill will get passed.” A day after Anna Hazare called off his agitations on Lokpal, Team Anna on Thursday admitted that his fast did not create the desired pressure on government and said there was no point in passing this “completely useless” bill.

The Core Committee of Team Anna will be meeting in Ralegan Siddhi on January 2 and 3 to decide on the future course of action as Hazare abruptly announced the scrapping of the jail bharo agitation and other protest plans.

“The fast was meant to create pressure. Now that on the first day itself they passed an ineffective and useless bill, there was no value of that pressure.

“So it was decided that it would not do any benefit and Anna’s health was not well, so it was called off,” Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan told reporters after a meeting of some of the Core Committee members.

On the Lokpal bill, which is before the Rajya Sabha, he said, “There is no point in passing this bill. This is completely useless bill. If it is passed or not, it does not make any difference.”
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