Anna bill bends govt will

Anna bill bends govt will

House mandates drafting panel to take into account demands; Gandhian to end fast today

Anna bill bends govt will

Anna Hazare with his team celebrate the news that his three conditions have been unanimously accepted by Parliament, at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi on Saturday. PTI

After a marathon seven-hour debate in both the Houses of Parliament, the sense of the debate was summed up by Leader of the House and senior minister Pranab Mukherjee who indicated that the government had conceded the three contentious demands of Team Anna - bringing the lower bureaucracy under the proposed Lokpal, instituting Lokayuktas in States through an enabling Central law and laying a citizens’ charter for the Lokpal that binds official machinery to redress public complaints within a specified timeframe.

At the end of the debate senior minister Vilasrao Deshmukh rushed to Ramlila Maidan armed with a letter from the prime minister containing “the sense of the House” which he conveyed to Hazare.

The septuagenarian then agreed to call off his fast, saying he would end it on Sunday at 10 am.

The debate, conducted under Rule 193 of the Lok Sabha, had no resolution to debate and was not voted upon either, a fact that Team Anna and the BJP were critical of, but soon fell in line.

Under the rule that governed the debate, the “sense of the House” is summed up by the Leader of the House. The “sense of the House’ in this case was conveyed to Anna Hazare and his team at the Ramlila Maidan by Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who accepted it.

No resolution

The Lok Sabha passed no resolution, as it would have done if the debate had been conducted under Rule 184, that would have been binding on the Parliamentary Standing committee but many constitutional experts saw the “sense of the House” as guidance to the committee in the formulation of the final draft of the legislation.

The committee, which has four draft bills before it including the official one, will assimilate points from them, and prepare a draft to be presented to the House for its consideration. In that sense, the “sense of the House” will be something between guidance and guideline to it.

At the end of the passionate debate on the Lokpal bill in the Lok Sabha with about 27 speakers of different parties making their points, Pranab Mukherjee said there is “in principle agreement” on the three demands of Hazare and put this proceedings to the Parliamentary standing committee. He said the House would consider the Lokpal bill at “an  appropriate time”. The same sense was conveyed by the Rajya Sabha.

Setting  the tone of consensus in the House, Mukherjee agreed with Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj that the Lokpal bill could not be passed even though the idea was around for over four decades. “Therefore, someone is sitting on the fast,” he said referring to Hazare’s protest fast at Ramlila Maidan.

In his opening remarks in the Lower house, Mukherjee said: “Government followed established procedures in introducing Lokpal bill in Parliament. Whatever we do should be within the Constitution. We are at crossroads... let us try to find solution within constitutional framework without violating supremacy of Parliament”.

The three demands will be subjected to the parliamentary standing committee and then it will be brought to the House. Mukherjee said it will be Parliament that would eventually decide on the final legislation.

“Our democracy is powerful enough, strong enough and flexible enough to accommodate different viewpoints,” he said.

Most speakers in the Lok Sabha stressed the supremacy of Parliament in law-making, with many criticising what they saw as Team Anna’s attempts to deride MPs. BJP MP Varun Gandhi, however, struck a different chord by saying that MPs should consider themselves as servants of the people and not rulers. Gandhi said Hazare has ignited the minds of  the youth in the country.

Harekrushna Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal also praised Hazare and quoted English political thinker J Bentham who sought to have “greatest good of greatest number.”
Swaraj said the House should not miss the opportunity to pass the legislation by getting entangled in technicalities. The MPs participating in the debate were all praise for the fasting Gandhian although they had serious reservations about the utterances of some of his team members. 

Mukherjee also reflected this mood when he said  there is a distinction between democracy and mobocracy. “To say that the government bill should be withdrawn and to burn it in public. This is not democratic behaviour,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the negotiations of the Anna team with the government went through several twists and turns with the former insisting on a resolution in the Parliament.

Hazare’s close associate Prashant Bhushan maintained that if the Government was serious about enacting a strong Lokpal, it should move a motion and Parliament should vote on it. He insisted that there should be a formal vote with division in Parliament and not a mere statement of intent. The BJP raised the bar for the government by agreeing to a resolution in favour of the three demands of Hazare.

An emergency meeting of two senior BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj with Mukherjee in his chamber in the Parliament House later salvaged the situation with government agreeing to have the sense of the House on the three issues.

By the end of the day, with minister Deshmukh and Team Anna flanking him, Hazare announced that there would be celebration of the “people’s victory,” sparking off wild scenes of joy at the maidan.