Six days are left of the Parliament's Winter Session. Is that enough time for the government to meet Anna Hazare's deadline that the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill must be passed by Parliament in this session?.
At a three-hour all-party meeting last evening, most of the bigger political parties favoured the introduction of the bill in this session, but remained divided on how the new bill should impact the country's premier investigating agency, the CBI, and whether it should be brought under the control of the new Lokpal or ombudsman agency.
There were some parties like Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD, Ram Vilas Paswan LJP, the Shiv Sena and the CPI that reportedly asked the PM not to rush the bill through Parliament in order to meet Anna's timeline. But the BJP, most of the Left and the NCP favoured a Lokpal Bill in this session, sources said, and they reportedly sought to know where the government's sense of urgency was. The BJP's Sushma Swaraj tweeted after the meeting that her party wants the bill to be passed as law in this session, scheduled to end on December 21.
The PM, in his opening remarks, said he would like just that, though with as much agreement as possible on the powers of the new ombudsman that the bill creates.
But at the end of those three hours, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, sources said, told the gathering that the government needs time to study the views expressed, as also the recommendations of a parliamentary committee that presented its recommendations on the bill last week. He did not indicate when the bill will be tabled or introduced in Parliament.
After the meet, some opposition parties accused the government of being non-committal.
In another part of Delhi, 74-year-old Anna Hazare is meeting with his core team of activists over two days planning the nitty-gritty of what could be his fourth hunger strike of the year. The activist has threatened to begin a new and lengthy fast on December 27, most likely in Mumbai, if a Lokpal Bill that does not meet his standards is passed, or if it is delayed beyond this parliament session.
What is likely to hold up the Bill is the major point of divergence - whether and how the Lokpal should be able to use the CBI to investigate charges of corruption against government servants. The question is whether to create a new investigative team for the ombudsman, or assign the CBI to handle these cases. Most parties stressed the need for the CBI to be autonomous, and to de-link it from any government control. But whether the Lokpal should be made the CBI's boss has divided parties.
At the all-party meeting, a majority of the parties agreed, as expected, that the Prime Minister should be included, with safeguards, within the ambit of the Lokpal - sources said Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Yadav opposed this. Most parties also wanted the lower bureaucracy included; only the Communist Party of India (CPI) held out on that.
Politicians said the Lokpal must not be accountable to the constitution and to Parliament. Some parties also asked that the selection committee that selects the 11 members of the Lokpal must include representatives of SC-STs. Sources said that a few leaders criticized others who attended a public debate on the boll hosted by Anna on Sunday at Delhi's Jantar Mantar. The suggestion was that it was inappropriate to discuss a bill that had yet to be brought to Parliament. Pranab Mukherjee said that nothing that was brought up during the debate could not have been discussed in Parliament.
At Sunday's debate, most parties had expressed their support for the powers that Anna wants the Lokpal to be given. However, they said the bill's details must be left to the wisdom of Parliament.
At yesterday's meeting this where the major political parties reportedly stood on the Lokpal Bill:
- The PM should be under the Lokpal, but with safeguards
- There should be a judicial commission, not the Judicial Accountability Bill
- The CBI should be independent
- The PM should be under the Lokpal
- The CBI should be depolitised
- They don't favour group C government employees under Lokpal
- The Lokpal should be accountable
- The PM should be included
- Group C officers should be included
- The CBI should be under some government mechanism
- The PM should be under the Lokpal, with safeguards
- The CBI should not be under the Lokpal
- The PM and chief ministers should be out of the ambit of the Lokpal
RJD and LJP:
- Don't rush the Bill
- There should be reservation in the Lokpal
- Parliament should not come under pressure