New Delhi: At 11 am today, the Lok Sabha will begin debating the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill. In Mumbai, the man who has pushed that bill to the top of India's agenda will begin a three-day hunger strike to register his protest. Anna Hazare, 74, and his team of activists say the bill betrays both the people and the assurance that Parliament made to the anti-corruption crusader in August, when his 12-day hunger strike made international headlines. To end that fast, Parliament promised to consider three guiding principles listed by Anna for the new Lokpal, or national ombudsman agency. The bill that was introduced in Parliament last week, Anna says, does not reflect what he had asked for.
Politicians say it's time for Anna to step back and let Parliament do its job. "Those who use the rules of the constitution of sitting on fasts or holding candlelight protest marches, should also know that they cannot violate the law made by the Constitution, which says that all bills and laws will be passed only in the Parliament. ...they should know how to respect other rights as well," said the Left's Sitaram Yechury.
The Lok Sabha will witness a day-long combined discussion on the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011 and the Constitution (Amendment) Bill to give the ombudsman a Constitutional status.
The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010 (popularly known as Whistle-blowers' bill) will also be discussed.
The Congress has already issued a three-line whip to its members to remain present in the Lok Sabha during the debate. It has also requested its allies in the UPA to issue similar whips.
The BJP has said it opposes the bill and will push for 37 amendments. Leading its list of objections is the 50 per cent quota that the bill promises for minorities and Schedule Castes and Tribes. The BJP says this quota is unconstitutional. The party also wants the government to amend the bill to liberate the CBI - the main investigating agency - from supervision by the government. Both Team Anna and the BJP believe that as long as the government decides on the budget and postings of the CBI and its officers, the agency will be vulnerable to pressure.
Several parties have also objected to the language in the bill that provides for the creation of Lokayuktas or anti-corruption agencies in individual states. The BJP and others say that in this provision, the bill stomps all over the turf of states and violates the federal structure of the country.
Parties like Lalu Yadav's RJD have objected to the Lokpal's jurisdiction over the Prime Minister. The bill allows the ombudsman to investigate the Prime Minister on charges of corruption, though with a series of caveats.
The CPI(M), which is likely to ask for 11 amendments, wants the inclusion of corporate crime in the jurisdiction of the Lokpal, particularly those cases which cause a loss to the public exchequer and has the involvement of public servants. The Left says that the Lokpal must be given its own investigating agency to handle the complaints filed by the public with the ombudsman.