Parliamentary panel shortchanges parliament, opposition
Prasanna Mohanty | December 13, 2011
When Anna Hazare sat on a fast demanding a strong Lokpal in August this year, a big fuss was made about the ‘sanctity’ of parliament and its procedures by the parliamentarians, especially in view of the fact that the matter was pending with the parliamentary standing committee then. Now that the standing committee has submitted its report we are wiser about that sentiment.
For one, it has shortchanged parliament itself by ignoring two of the three key elements of its ‘unanimous’ resolution adopted on August 27 envisioning the shape of Lokpal. The resolution read: “This House agrees ‘in principle’ on the following issues – (i) Citizen’s Charter, (ii) lower bureaucracy under Lokpal through an appropriate mechanism, and (iii) establishment of Lokayukta in the States”.
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The standing committee report adopts the third - establishment of Lokayukta in States - but dumps the other two. Its report says, there should be separate mechanisms for the Citizen’s Charter and that the lower bureaucracy (Group C and D officers). Even ruling party members, Meenakshi Natrajan, PT Thomas and Deepa Dasmunshi, disagree on exclusion of the lower bureaucracy and give a dissenting note saying that Group C officers should be included. Interestingly, the panel changed its views after initially including lower bureaucracy in Lokpal’s ambit.
There are other key issues that render the Lokpal being envisaged by the standing committee ineffective. The selection panel for the Lokpal consists of nine members – prime minister, speaker of Lok Sabha, leaders of oppositions of two houses, a union minister nominated by the prime minister, a jurist nominated by government, a prominent public figure nominated by government, a sitting judge of supreme court and a chief justice of high court. As it is clear, the government has a majority say in the selection – five out nine members are controlled by it. This makes Lokpal a puppet in the hands of the government of the day.
Independence of the CBI, the premier investigating agency, has been compromised by retaining the current arrangement as per which the government retains administrative control over it, making it toothless and prone to political manipulation.
The standing committee is non-committal on inclusion of the prime minister in Lokpal’s ambit in spite of popular sentiments and contrarian views of the person occupying the august office himself and the members of the panel belonging to the opposition parties. The panel merely lists various options without taking a position. This evoked a maximum of five dissenting notes from the members belonging to the opposition parties.
On the other contentious issue, jurisdiction over the MPs themselves, the panel is in favour of maintaining existing arrangement which provides them immunity for anything they do inside parliament, notwithstanding two cash-for-votes scams and a cash-for-question scam. This attracts two dissenting notes.
With such a blatant act of sabotaging public sentiments, parliament’s unanimous resolution in some aspects and without empowering the toothless anti-corruption mechanism that exist today, the standing committee fails to do justice with the onerous task that it was dealing with. In fact, it is quite in keeping with parliament’s inglorious track record of the past 43 years - the period over which parliament has been deliberating the Lokpal issue without making any headway.
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