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Lok Sabha passes Lokpal - is it a toothless tiger?
Amid confusion and chaos, Lok Sabha finally passed the much-debated Lokpal bill with amendments but is it just a futile exercise as setting up Lokayuktas in states is optional as the bill failed to get constitutional status.

SIXTY-FOUR years before India declared its independence from Britishers as clock struck midnight. Again midnight clock assumed significance, as the Lok Sabha passed the much-debated Lokpal bill through a voice vote, seen to steer the country out of the menace of corruption, around the same time.

While Anna Hazare continued with his fast-protest at MMRDA grounds in Mumbai along with few thousand crowds, parliamentarians burnt the midnight oil and passed the bill, though amidst lot of commotion, noise and walk-outs.

Though the Lokpal and Lokayutta Bill 2011 was introduced with a constitutional (116th amendment) bill, but after charges from the fellow coalition and opposition members of hastening under the duress of Anna Hazare’s campaign, the bill failed to be passed as a constitutional bill – possible only if the government managed to get two-thirds majority in the House.

This prompted Union Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee to say that ‘it was a sad day for democracy’. Absence of 15 congress MLAs and about dozen others from UPA during the vote contributed to defeat of Rahul Gandhi’s idea, who had termed it as a ‘game-changer’ when earlier bill was introduced in August.

Had BSP, SP and RJD not decided to walk-out and abstain from voting, the government wouldn’t have managed to get the bill passed in the House, as it brought down their target numbers.

Now the bill has to pass through Rajya Sabha, where the government doesn’t enjoy majority, so a tough test to get it passed there. Even if it does, the bill lacks a constitutional status, meaning that it is not mandatory for states to appoint Lokayuktas. This helped the UPA to neutralise their allies – Trinamool and DMK who had criticised the original bill and accused it of altering the federal structure.

Addressing Anna’s suggestions, Lokpal has the Prime Minister under its purview but with an amendment proposed by the BJP, only two-thirds of Lokpal agreement will be required to start proceedings against the Prime Minister.

States will not be forced to set up Lokayuktas under the central law. Opposition parties such as BJP, AIADMK, SP, RJD and others saw it as an attack on the federal structure. The government has agreed that the armed forces don’t come under the purview of the Lokpal bill. One wonders why they have been left out of the purview of the bill as they have been involved in huge scams that include Bofors, Kargil war heroes, and the Adarsh Housing scam, etc.

CBI and lower bureaucracy are already out of the purview of the bill and Team Anna had proposed to include them as well. Giving in to the demands of the allies, Congress dropped a proposal that would have empowered the Lokpal presiding officers to act against Ministers and MPs even before a trial is completed against them.

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