Flawed Lokayukta Bill passed amid walkout, protest

By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: Amidst walk out of the Opposition and protest by the anti-graft NGOs inside the Assembly premises, the State Assembly on Friday forcefully passed the Meghalaya Lokayukta Bill without any discussion while rejecting the demand of the members either to refer the Bill to the House Select Committee or call a Special Session.

While the Bill was passed, the entire Opposition walked out of the House saying that they would not be party to the decision of the Government to pass a deformed Bill.

Anti-graft NGOs holding placards protested against the passing of the Lokayukta Bill outside the Assembly.

Opposing the move to pass the Bill in its present form, members from both the Treasury and Opposition benches demanded that there should be an extension of the current session for another day or two to allow the members to discuss the legal aspects and Constitutional implications of the Bill.

The members also suggested that the Bill should be referred to a House Select Committee to discuss its pros and cons.

Leader of Opposition Conrad K Sangma said that the Bill suffered from serious flaws.

“The Bill is a copy of the Lokayukta Bill which was passed in 2002. The only difference is that this time it has been printed on slightly better quality paper,” Sangma said.

He said that flaws in the Bill could be detected only after having a glimpse of it, while adding that the members did not get enough time to go into the details of the Bill which was tabled on Friday.

“The Bill does not mention about the composition of the Lokayukta. It is not clear whether it would be a three-member panel like the Lokayuktas in Karnataka and Uttarakhand,” he said while insisting that there should be scope for someone from the civil society to be a member of the Lokayukta to ensure that the panel is a neutral one.

Sangma also suggested that they can always convene a special session to dwell on the provisions of the Bill in details.

“I totally oppose the idea of passing the Bill in the current form,” the Leader of Opposition added.

UDP legislator Paul Lyngdoh agreed that the Bill suffers from serious flaws.

“After managing to quickly go through the various provisions of the Bill, I was able to detect some lacunae which were glaring,” the UDP working president said. While referring to Section 22 (1) of the Bill, he said that the State Government may in consultation with the Lokayukta exclude by notification in the official gazette, complaints involving an allegation against any person belonging to any class of public servants from the jurisdiction of the Lokayukta.

“This itself is a clear indication that is an attempt to protect a section of officers,” the UDP legislator said.

Referring to Section 12 (2), Lyngdoh said every complaint shall be accompanied by the complainant’s own affidavit in support thereof and the same shall be verified before a First Class Magistrate together with all documents in his possession pertaining to the accusation.

“With such stringent formalities I do not think anyone would be keen to file a complaint since he would be entering into a wild fire,” Lyngdoh added.

Referring to Section 3 (1) (2) and (4) of the Bill, he said that as per these sections, people from the legal fraternity would only be eligible to be appointed as members of the Lokayukta.

“I do not think this is justified since members from the civil society and people’s elected representatives have the right to be appointed as members,” Lyngdoh said, while also questioning Section 9 of the Bill, which bars a member of the Parliament or State Legislature to be elected as members of Lokayukta.

Lyngdoh also supported extension of the session for another day or two to allow the members to discuss the Bill.

Nongkrem legislator Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit said the Government should not rush in passing the Bill without allowing the members to discuss its pros and cons.

“Since the Bill was circulated this morning only, it was impossible for the members to study the Bill. I suggest either to convene a special session or to extend the sitting of the current session by another day or two,” Basaiawmoit said.

While stating that the people’s eyes were on the House, Mawprem legislator Manas Chaudhuri wanted to know what would be the fate of the important piece of legislation for fighting against corruption.

He said that it is important that there is a thorough debate on the various provisions of the Bill.

Admitting that the members did not have the time to properly study the Bill, Chaudhuri suggested that the matter should be referred to a House Select Committee.

“We need to give the Select Committee a specific deadline to complete its task so that this landmark legislation would be passed by this current House”, Chaudhuri said, while adding that all the members of the current House should take the credit for the Bill.

Objecting the forceful passing of the Bill, NCP legislator John Manner Marak said that there should be an extension of the current session for another two days to allow the members to discuss the Bill.

Another NCP legislator ECB Bamon also favoured that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee.

Former Chief Minister Dr Donkupar Roy (UDP) stated that there were only two options before the House – either to reject the Bill or pass the Bill in its present form.

“I strongly feel that it would send a wrong signal to the people if we fail to pass the Bill now. There is always a scope to bring an amendment later,” Dr Roy said. He also said that since the term of the House is expiring shortly, it would not be wise to refer the matter to the Select Committee.

Deputy Chief Minister Bindo Mathew Lanong, however, spoke in favour of passing the Bill.

“Even after the Bill becomes an Act, it can always be amended. The fact is that no law is foolproof. The Constitution of India has been amended 80 times since it was adopted,” Lanong said, adding, “Let us pass the Bill and create history.”

However, the Leader of Opposition (Conrad) objected saying that they would not want to be a part of history by passing a flawed Bill.

Earlier, Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma said that the current Bill is very different from the existing Lokayukta Bill.

“The Chief Minister has also come under the purview of this new Lokayukta Bill,” Dr Sangma stated.

Maintaining that the new Bill is strong and good enough to handle the issue of corruption, the Chief Minister said that they have shown due diligence while preparing the draft of the new Lokayukta Bill.

Dr Sangma was determined that the Bill should be passed since it can always be amended even after it becomes an Act.

NGOs up in arms, protest rally called

Anti-graft NGOs on Friday vehemently protested the passage of the Meghalaya Lokayukta Bill, 2012, inside the Assembly premises and burnt copies of the Bill.

The NGO members also displayed placards mentioning ‘Mukul-Bindo-Charles Betrayed’, ‘CM is a liar’ and ‘Leading the Way to Corruption’.

In protest, the Meghalaya Right to Information Movement (MRTIM) and other partner NGOs, have decided to organize a protest rally at Motphran on December 19 at 12 noon.

MRTIM member Angela Rangad criticized the Government’s claims that the passing of this Bill was a historic event, saying that for the NGOs this is a historic betrayal since a Bill with full of glaring flaws has been passed by the House without any discussion.

“We will continue our fight for a strong Lokayukta law,” Rangad added.

FKJGP president Joe Marwein referred to the Bill as weak and toothless and a repetition of the previous Act. “What we need is a stringent law to curb corruption,” he added.

KSU general secretary Auguster Jyrwa slammed the government for bulldozing the opposition party and not extending the session for further discussion on the Bill.

“We will keep on demanding for a stronger Act which will cover everyone right from the Chief Minister to a peon,” he said.

CSWO president Agnes Kharshiing referred to the government’s action as an insult to the people.

“If they (legislators) think they can fool the people then they are wrong, because the people are strong enough to demand what is healthy to the society and the State,” she added.

She also lambasted the government for behaving like dictators by forcefully passing the Bill without proper discussion.

Meanwhile, the NGOs have decided to mobilize people’s support and enlighten the general masses on the need to have a strong Lokayukta Act in the State.