Does the summer of 2013 promise to release the Lokpal from the legislative and administrative limbo of 45 years? The government says it is determined to get the law into the statute book, by getting a changed version passed, first in the Rajya Sabha and then in the Lok Sabha. But the opposition is not ready to go with the governmental version in the upper house, where the UPA does not have a clear majority. Substantive issues relating to control over the Central Bureau of Investigation still divide the treasury and opposition benches, while the Gangetic-belt regional parties want reservation for OBCs among members of the Lokpal. There are apprehensions that there could be a repeat of the night of December 29, 2011, when disruptions forced Chairman Hamid Ansari to adjourn the Rajya Sabha sine die, without putting the Lokpal bill to vote.
Later, a 15-member select committee wrestled for a year with the contentious provisions of the bill, already passed by the Lok Sabha, and came out with a consensus bill. But the government has dropped two key recommendations of the committee.
Already, leader of the opposition Arun Jaitley has sounded the bugle saying he does not agree with the way the cabinet has twisted the select committee report. He has insisted that the report is the property of the Rajya Sabha, and the government can only move amendments. But Minister of State for Personnel V. Narayanasamy has argued that the bill was introduced by him, and on behalf of the government, the minister has the right to propose amendments.
Jaitley has opposed the provision to allow accused government employees an opportunity to be heard before a case is registered, saying this would defeat any chance of discovering ill-gotten wealth or incriminating documents through surprise raids. He also wants the transfer and repatriation of CBI officers not to be under the government, but to be controlled by the Lokpal. Both these recommendations had been made by the committee, but rejected by the government.
It is not the BJP alone. The Left parties are also upset with the changes. But the UPA is hoping that the regional parties with numbers in the Rajya Sabha, like the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal would come to its rescue. As the bill would generate a lot of heat, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath is planning to take it up only in May, when the Rajya Sabha would have finished the budgetary business and is ready to wind up the long session. The government is willing to drag on the issue because the urgency created by the Anna Hazare-led protests of 2011 has subsided, and there is now more scope for political manoeuvres.