The Aam Aadmi Party government will bring its Jan Lokpal Bill to set up an ombudsman to investigate corruption charges against politicians and civil servants in the Monsoon Session of the Delhi Assembly that is likely to take place in August.
To recall, AAP had decided to end its 49-day rule and quit power in February 2014 when the minority government failed to table the previous version of the Bill in the Assembly. Both BJP and Congress had opposed the Bill saying its tabling was “unconstitutional” as the Centre had not vetted it.
This time, the Bill has been tweaked to be stronger, and also more contentious, setting off fears of a bitter confrontation with the Centre, whose nod is a must for the half-state of Delhi to pass any such legislation.
The revised version, apart from other provisions, also looks at greater powers over Delhi’s ACB (anti-corruption branch), an institution currently caught in legal and political battles between the Delhi government and Centre. AAP says it has people’s mandate (67 Assembly seats out of 70) to run the city the way it wants to.
The Centre cites constitutional provisions to control issues of public order and transfer posting of senior bureaucrats. AAP spokesperson Dilip Pandey said, “The draft is almost ready. It will become more stringent. Tweaking is being done in the light of the Centre’s attempts to control the ACB and interfere into issues of transfer and posting. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is himself monitoring the whole process.”
More than four months into office, the government claims it has done its homework and Kejriwal’s showpiece legislation will not face any hurdles this time. Delhi government’s spokesperson Nagendra Sharma said, “We will send the draft to the Centre first; they will convey their objections, if any, including possibilities of our Bill violating any national Law. I don’t think it will be stalled again.”
The Bill was a key demand of social activist Anna Hazare’s anti-graft movement which gave birth to Kejriwal-led AAP. But there has been criticism from BJP and Congress that AAP has in its second avatar been quiet about the Bill. In fact, there has been no Lokayukta after the last one, Manmohan Sarin, retired in November 2013. About 450 corruption cases have piled up since then.
“The institution of Lokayukta has no teeth. It only has recommendatory powers. Why have a replacement when we are going to repeal the current Act and bring a much stronger ombudsman,” said Sharma.
The new office will have the powers to prosecute even the chief minister. Trials have to finish in six months. Those found guilty will serve a jail term of one year to life imprisonment. Property seizures and dismissal from office may also happen.
“Arvind himself started work on the Bill on April 5. This time we’re making the whole procedure water tight and foolproof. We will follow all the so-called rules. There could not be a timeline but the Bill is likely to be tabled in the monsoon session. Last time we didn’t have the numbers in the Assembly. That’s taken care of by the people of Delhi,” Pandey said.
Once the draft is final, the Delhi government’s law department will take a look before it is sent to the state Cabinet. The 33-page Delhi Janlokpal Bill, 2014 will then be sent to the Centre via Delhi’s Lt Governor Najeeb Jung for vetting.
The home ministry will seek law ministry’s opinion before sending it back to Jung with suggestions for changes if needed. It is Jung who has to green light it to be tabled in the Assembly. When passed, it would need presidential assent.
easy. Jung, who reports to the Centre, had in 2014 himself objected to the tabling of the previous Bill, saying it was in contravention of constitutional procedures.
AAP and Jung are locked in a bitter legal and political row for greater control over Delhi. The Centre is not at ease with a Delhi law acting against central government officials.