Lokpal Act watered down

The Lok Sabha approved a key amendment to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act and exempted public servants — which include lawmakers, government employees and NGOs — from declaring their assets by July 31.
The amendment, which was passed without discussion in the House in a matter of minutes, is also been seen as a dilution of the original act that provides for an anti-corruption watchdog. After Dr Jitendra Singh, minister of state for personnel, introduced the amendment bill and moved a motion for its passage, CPI(M)’s Mohammed Salim objected to the bill being brought in without being allotted time and the government pressing for its passage without discussion. The amendment did not have a sense of the House, Salim said.
Singh said the bill needed to be cleared urgently because the legislation requires every public servant to file returns and declare assets and liabilities before July 31. The bill was brought in the supplementary list of business for the day.
Trinamool Congress’ Kalyan Banerjee also objected to the lack of discussion on the bill despite the impending deadline. “Parties had their own points to make,” he said. The Congress supported the bill but its leader in the House, Mallikarjun Kharge, cautioned the government ,“The message should not go out that all MPs have got together and diluted the bill. We want you to clarify that,” he said.
Reacting to objections raised in the House, Singh said the government’s “intention or design is not to dilute the Lokpal Act… there is no question of dilution of provisions. In fact, we will make it more stringent if such is a recommendation”.
A number of amendments proposed by the government and introduced as a bill in December 2014 are pending before a Standing Committee.
The government said the Standing Committee will give its recommendations before the next session of Parliament and till then the deadline for declaration of assets of public servants and NGOs could be deferred.
Under rules notified under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act 2013, a public servant has to file a declaration, information and annual returns pertaining to assets and liabilities for self, spouse and dependent children on March 31 every year. The government has extended the deadline a number of times since the Act came into force in January 2014.
NGOs getting government grants of Rs.1 crore or foreign grants over Rs.10 lakh also fall under the definition of public servants.

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