Heeding to Anna Hazare’s demands, Parliament today adopted a ‘Sense of the House’ on three key issues raised by him with regard to the Lokpal Bill with an aim of persuading him to end his 12-day hunger strike. The ‘Sense of the House’ was adopted with thumping of  desks without any voting after an extraordinary debate in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on the statement made by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on issues related to the Lokpal Bill.

Winding up the day-long debate, Mukherjee said while a “respected” Gandhian with “massive support” was on agitation, it was not always necessary to move in “conventional straight jacket way”.

He read out the ‘Sense of the House’ which said: “This House agrees in principle on the following issues (i) citizen charter, (ii) lower bureaucracy to be under lok pal through an appropriate mechanism and (iii) establishment of Lok Ayuktas in the states,

“And further resolves to transmit the proceedings to the Department-related Standing Committee for its perusal while formulating its recommendations for a Lokpal Bill.”

These elements of the ‘Sense of the House’ were the issues raised by Hazare, who wanted them to be incorporated in the Lokpal Bill.

Immediately after he read it in both Houses, there was thumping of desks and Parliament was adjourned for the day.

“Parliament has spoken….the will of Parliament is the will of people,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh commenting on the development.

After the ‘Sense of the House’, Mukherjee said “I do feel that on the basis of that, we can request Shri Anna Hazare to end his fast so that the so-called conflict between civil society, Parliament or political parties” ends.

He asserted that Parliament was supreme and law-making was its domain alone while others could give suggestions.

Later, he expressed happiness that the “impasse” had been resolved.

During the debate, the ruling and Opposition parties, which were keen on ending the two-week old logjam, felt Hazare’s demands could be considered but the sanctity of the Constitution and Parliamentary supremacy had to be preserved.

Setting tone for the debate, Mukherjee said the country was at “cross-roads” and asked lawmakers to give their serious and considered views on the “important” and “genuine” issues raised by Hazare.

“For, everything that we do must be consistent with the principles enshrined within our Constitutional framework,” he said.

Mukherjee said the situation was “moving out of hand” and “crisis” had been created as he asked lawmakers to “seize the moment and demonstrate the commitment” in dealing with corruption which is “gnawing at the vitals of our polity”.

BJP gave “consent” to all the three issues under consideration of the two Houses.

In the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said, “History has given us an opportunity, which we should not miss. Let us not get into technicalities. We should give this country an effective, strong, free and impartial Lokpal.”

Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said BJP finds considerable merit in Hazare’s three demands, including covering entire bureaucracy and Citizens’ Charter for public grievances under Lokpal and setting up Lokayuktas in states.

Maintaining that there should be no conflict with the Constitution and it was the responsibility of MPs to abide by the Constitution, the Finance Minister asserted in Parliament that legislation is the domain of the Parliament alone.

“Sorry, we cannot go beyond a certain point. Legislation is the domain of legislators. Nobody other than Parliament can make a law. Others can give suggestions. Executive powers is also limited in making laws…Parliament alone can make law,” he said.

He questioned demands for withdrawal of the government’s Lokpal Bill, currently with the Standing Committee. “You have every right to criticise. What is the argument and justification for this demand for withdrawal of this bill?”

Referring to the government’s engagement Hazare team, he said, “We tried to convince them. I admit we have failed. We could not carry conviction with them. Neither I have intention to score a debating point, nor I have intention to contradict anyone.”

Mukherjee said, “If we want to get back the confidence of people, we shall have to ensure that premier institutions should function as per norms and rules. If we do, many issues will be corrected automatically.”

Hailing the Constitution which has been described as the biggest ‘Magna Carta’, he said, “It is our responsibility to abide by the Constitution so that there is no conflict with the desire of our masters, so that there is no conflict. Our constitution is flexible enough to accommodate various ideas, it can accommodate various thoughts.”

Responding to criticism by Opposition parties over dealing with the Hazare issue, Mukherjee said, “We tried to handle the situation. You may call it mismanagement or bungling. I will not join issue with you.”

Hailing Hazare, he said, “None of us can say the issue is not important… the person who is going to fast on the issue in old age and risked his life … I accept it.”

Mukherjee noted that the Lokpal Bill could not be passed for 40 years despite legislations in this regard being introduced eight times and said that he admitted the “lapse” of his party’s governments like Swaraj did earlier.

“Therefore, if somebody is making agitation, sitting on fast, demanding participation in consultations, we tried. But it is unfortunate we did not agree on all points,” he said, referring to the involvement of Hazare team in joint drafting of the Lokpal Bill.

He said out of 40 principles, there was agreement on 34 aspects.

At the same time, he said, “there should be difference between democracy and mobocracy. In the government bill, which is under consideration of Standing Committee, substantial number of principles, basic ideas have been incorporated.

On six issues, there were differences and “line of communication was snapped” after which agitation was undertaken by Hazare.

He underlined that corruption is an important issue but “one piece of legislation, however strong and empowered it may, that piece of legislation will not completely eradicate corruption. There is need for change in system and we are doing so.”

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June 2021