Three anti-graft measures held up in Parliament
The Lokpal Bill met with an anti-climax at midnight last night in the Rajya Sabha after passage from the Lower House. The two Houses of Parliament were adjourned sine die on Thursday. The UPA government is in a minority in the 243-member Rajya Sabha. Its problems were aggravated by stiff resistance from its ally Trinamool Congress, which was dead against a provisions in the Lokpal Bill relating to Lokayuktas in the states. The bill seeks to create an independent ombudsman to check corruption. While the Lokpal will have no powers to investigate cases of graft on its own, it can ask agencies like the CBI to probe cases. It will have its own prosecution wing to try the accused in special courts.
While the Whistle-blowers` protection bill secured Lok Sabha`s approval without a separate debate, it could not be taken up in the Rajya Sabha as Opposition demanded that time be allocated separately to discuss this legislation. It is aimed at helping establish a regular mechanism to encourage persons to disclose information on corruption or wilful misuse of power by public servants, including ministers.
The Bill also seeks to provide "adequate protection to persons reporting corruption or wilful misuse of discretion which causes demonstrable loss to the government or commission of a criminal offence by a public servant." While the measure sets out the procedure to inquire into the disclosures and provides adequate safeguards against victimisation of the whistle-blower, it also seeks to provide punishment for false or frivolous complaints.
The Judicial Accountability Bill — which was moved in the Lok Sabha on December 28, along with a Constitutional Amendment Bill relating to age of retirement of in the High Courts — has been kept pending as the government does not have the required two-third majority. "We want some amendments to the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill," Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said today.
The BJP is already against increasing the retirement age of high court judges from the present 62 to 65 years through a constitutional amendment. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill 2010, which is an amended version of the one introduced last year, provides for a mechanism to investigate complaints against Supreme Court and High Court judges. The 114th Constitution Amendment Bill seeks to raise the retirement age of high court judges from the present 62 years to 65 years, bringing it on par with the retirement age of Supreme Court judges.
Another major bill is on citizens charter makes it mandatory for every authority or department to publish a citizen`s charter and address grievances within 30 days, failing which the official concerned would face action. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha recently and will now be referred to a Standing Committee which will scrutinise it.