Tightrope walk for Lokpal Bill in RS

TV Grab --Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee speaks as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh looks on during the discussion on Lokpal Bill in Lok Sabha in New Delhi on Tuesday. Lok Sabha tonight passed a historic bill to create a nine-member anti-corruption watchdog Lokpal after a marathon debate but the government suffered a major embarrassment when the legislation to give it a Constitutional status was defeated for want of requisite two-third majority. PTI A day after the UPA government faced embarrassment in the Lok Sabha, the controversial Lokpal Bill will be taken up in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday with the ruling coalition unsure over the fate of the draft anti-corruption legislation.

The reasons for the uncertainty are two-fold: the lack of numbers for the government and more importantly, the key ally Trinamool Congress is playing hard to placate. Trinamool wants removal of any hurdles to the federal structure in the form of provisions for the establishment of Lokayuktas.

The draft Bill provides for Lokayuktas under Article 253 of the Constitution. The government has said it had now been made optional on the part of the states to establish it under Article 253. However, the Trinamool said it wanted complete removal of any impediments.

The government is said to have ruled out further amendments to the Lokpal Bill - it made 10 changes in the Bill in Lok Sabha on Tuesday. As the fresh crisis triggered by Trinamool Congress broke out in the morning, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee met Trinamool leaders, ministers Mukul Roy and Sudip Bandopadhyay during the day. Roy indicated that his party was waiting to see the language in this regard in the bill.

"We will make our stand clear only after the Bill is tabled in the Rajya Sabha," Roy said.

Trinamool, which has moved three amendments on the Lokayukta issue, has six members in the 243-member Upper House where the Congress and its allies do not have a majority.  If the government accepts the amendments, the bill will have to be referred to the Lok Sabha again or a joint session of Parliament has to be convened for its clearance.

That the UPA does not enjoy majority support has put the government in a spot and is banking on friendly parties such as the BSP (18 MPs), SP (6) and RJD  (4) to do a repeat act of staging a walk out in the Upper House, like they did in the Lower House on Tuesday.

In the Rajya Sabha, the Congress and allies in the UPA account for 94 and can count on the support of eight nominated members and Independents and members of small parties accounting for around 10 MPs. The Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, being an ordinary legislation, needs a simple majority of 122. The  absence of BSP, SP and RJD will bring down the total strenth of the House and reduce the required majority to 108 in a House of 215. Government sources were confident that it has a strength of 114 which will see it sail through if the three parties abstain. “I am confident we will sail through,” Parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Bansal told reporters.

The BJP, which played a leading role in the defeat of the Bill to confer Constitutional status to Lokpal, said it will oppose the Bill. The Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitely spoke of provisions in the Lokpal Bill breaching the federal structure and asserted that Parliament could not pass a legislation knowing that it was against the Constitution. The BJP is likely to move amendements to press for establishing Lokayukta under Article 252, a change in the provisions of appointment and removal of Lokpal and to bring the CBI under the ombudsman. The party also claimed that the government did not have the numbers in the Upper House.

On the Opposition side, the BJP has 51, Left parties have 19, JD(U) eight, BJD six, AIADMK five, TDP and Shiv Sena four each, Akali Dal three and AGP two. Faced with the embarrassment in LS over the Constitution Amendment Bill on the Lokpal, government managers are leaving nothing to chance to ensure the presence of all members of the party as also its allies.

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