Monday, February 26, 2024

43 years, eight Lokpal bills, zero consensus

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NEW DELHI:India’s effort to have an anti-graft ombudsman in the form of a Lokpal institution may have caught national attention only now. But parliament has made eight attempts since 1968 to pass a Lokpal bill, a different version each time, all in vain.

The bill was first brought before the fourth Lok Sabha in 1968 and passed in 1969. However, the house was dissolved, resulting in the first death of the bill.

The legislation was revived in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, and 2001, but never survived.

In September 2004, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government would lose no time in enacting the bill.

It finally took a mass mobilisation by Anna Hazare and his associates in April this year to get the government to work on the Lokpal bill and bring it to parliament.

The issue has gathered momentum with his current fast, which Friday entered its 11th day.

The latest Lokpal bill introduced in the Lok Sabha Aug 4 is the ninth version of the legislation before parliament. It is has been referred to a parliamentary standing committee and parliament will decide its fate.

From 1968 to 2011, the bill has come before parliament under seven prime ministers beginning with Indira Gandhi.

Of them, only V.P. Singh, H.D. Deve Gowda and Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to have prime ministers under the law’s purview. However, none of these eight bills had the judiciary under its purview.

“The idea of an ombudsman first came up in parliament during a discussion on budget allocation for the law ministry in 1963. The first administrative reforms committee in 1966 recommended the setting up of two independent authorities at the central and state level to look into complaints against public functionaries, including MPs,” according to PRS Legislative Research.

The first time parliament heard about Lokpal was in May 1968 when Indira Gandhi was prime minister. The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 1968, did not have either the prime minister or MPs under its purview.

The bill, passed in 1969, never became law, as it lapsed after the fourth Lok Sabha was dissolved.

Indira Gandhi was still the prime minister in August 1971 when the bill was again introduced in parliament.

The 1971 legislation was never referred to any committee and it lapsed after the fifth Lok Sabha was dissolved.

The third attempt was made by the Janata Party under Morarji Desai. The bill presented to parliament in July 1977 did not include the prime minister but allowed for MPs to be brought under its purview.

A joint select committee considered the bill and made recommendations, but the sixth Lok Sabha was dissolved soon after.

Under Rajiv Gandhi, the Lok Sabha took up the bill once again in 1985 and it was referred to a joint select committee.

Later, the bill was withdrawn by the government.(IANS)

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