The Lok Sabha on Wednesday approved an amendment to the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013, to allow extension of the time given to public servants and trustees and board members of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) receiving government funds of more than Rs. 1 crore or foreign funding of more than Rs 10 lakh to declare their assets and those of their spouses.
The amendment to section 44 of the Act was moved by Dr. Jitendra Singh, Minister of State handling the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), under whose jurisdiction the Bill falls.
Senior Ministers of the government made it clear that the amendment was for providing immediate relief to public servants facing the July 31 deadline.
The provision would be examined closely by a parliamentary standing Committee, which will submit its report before the next session of Parliament.
Dr. Singh said the government had received representations from MPs and otherstakeholders.
On July 25, a delegation of MPs had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding deletion of the provision. In the Rajya Sabha, nominated Member of Parliament, Anu Agha, raised the issue as did independent MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar. The amendment to the Bill was introduced in the supplementary list of business in the Lok Sabha, and had not been cleared by the Union Cabinet, as was the norm before being tabled in either House of Parliament.
“Amendments to bills can be moved under three condition: one, when cleared by the Union Cabinet; second, the Prime Minister invokes rule 12 of the transaction of business and takes a suo motu decision, and a post facto approval is then sought from the Union Cabinet; or an empowered group of ministers meet and clear it, again with post facto approval of the Cabinet,” said a senior Minister. “In this case, the Prime Minister seems to have taken the call,” said the Minister. The amendment specifically pertains to Section 44 of the Lokpal Act which deals with declaration of assets and provision of making the assets public. “Till the present impasse is overcome, the deadline with regard to government servants can be deferred,” Dr. Singh said as e moved the amendments.
According to the rules notified under the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, every public servant shall file declaration, information and annual returns pertaining to his assets and liabilities as well as of his spouse and dependent children as on March 31 on or before July 31 of that year.
The extension given now is in fact the fifth since the Act came into force in January 2014.
“Since this law was framed by the Standing Committee, the same [amendment] has to go to a Standing Committee. The government is open to the idea of amending the law, but the same can be done after taking into account the recommendations of the Standing Committee,” Dr Singh said.
Passed by voice vote
The amendment to the Lokpal Act 2013 was later passed by a voice vote.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge supported the government’s move of introducing the bill, saying there were no two opinions that the amendments were urgent. He, however, said the provisions of the Act should not be diluted as common people would say that MPs came together to dilute the Lokpal Act.
“Certainly it is not the intention or design to dilute the provision of the Act,” Dr. Singh responded. “We are ready to make it even more stringent. We are just giving an opportunity for another thought to it.” He said if the Standing Committee ruled out the proposition, then the government would not press for it.
The CPI(M) member Mohammad Salim and Trinamool Congress (TMC) member Kalyan Banerjee raised objections to the hurried way the amendments were sought to be passed. The Minister explained that the government was only trying to facilitate effective implementation of the Act.
[Source:- The Hindu]