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Lokpal law amendment may be taken up for consideration during Monsoon session of Parliament: Supreme Court

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New Delhi, March 28, 2017: The Central government on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that the Lokpal and Lokayuktas and Other Related Law (Amendment) Bill, 2014, a stepping stone for operationalising the institution, may be taken up for consideration during the monsoon session of Parliament.

Telling the bench that government was not dragging its feet on taking up the amendment bill, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi told the bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Navin Sinha that the current session of parliament is devoted to budget and “may be it (amendment bill) will be considered in the monsoon session”.

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He told the court that the selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India can’t nominate the fifth member – the eminent jurist – without the Leader of Opposition being there.

As the government said that it was seized of the issue and opposed any intervention by the court, the court reserved its verdict on a batch of petitions including one by society Common Cause seeking mandamus to the government to take steps for enforcing the law enacted in 2013.

Citing the separation of powers under the Constitution, Rohatgi told the court that “there can’t be a mandamus to bring an Act into force because as parliament can’t ask how courts are functioning or a particular case be decided in a particular time frame” and similarly, courts can’t venture into the law-making province of legislature.

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“Whether they pass, how they pass, how they do, whether they can pass in two minutes, is within the province of the parliament,” he stressed.

Rohatgi said that the amendment to treat the leader of the largest opposition party as Leader of Opposition for the purposes of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, was just one of the many amendments that are being sought to be made in the statute.

Earlier appearing for Common Cause, senior counsel Shanti Bhushan referred to different laws where leader of the largest opposition party is treated Leader of Opposition for the purposes of the appointment of the Central Bureau of Investigations’ Director or even the Chief Vigilance Commissioner.

He pressed for the direction that in the absences of the Leader of the Opposition, the remaining three member – the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker and the Chief Justice of India should nominate the fifth member – the eminent jurist – so that the process for the appointment of Lokpal could start.

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Buttressing the point advanced by Bhushan, another counsel Gopal Shankarnarayan drew the attention of the court to the passing of the amendment to Section 44 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, dealing with the declaration of assets by the public servants.

He said that in the case of the amendment, the government had the clear intention and it went ahead with it and asked how piecemeal amendment can be given effect to while the other amendments which, according to the government, are essential for operationalising the law are not being pushed by it. (IANS)

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Sri Lanka On The Brink of ‘Economic Anarchy’

Sri Lanka will have issues on accessing government money if the stalemate is not resolved by the end of the year.

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Sri Lanka
Members of a civil society group attend a silent protest to demand democracy, after Sri Lankan opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed prime minister when President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed Ranil Wickremesinghe, in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Two men each claim to be the prime minister. Lawmakers are exchanging blows in Parliament. A former finance minister says Sri Lanka is on the brink of an “economic anarchy.”

Welcome to Sri Lanka, where the political crisis is getting worse by the week.

The trouble started when President Maithripala Sirisena, fed up with disagreements with his prime minister over money, an alleged conspiracy plot and unresolved issues of wartime crimes against civilians, fired Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet and replaced them with a government headed by a popular former strongman, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

But lawmakers balked and twice passed a no-confidence motion. Sirisena, however, refuses to accept that his choice of prime minister has been defeated.

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Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena waves to supporters during a rally outside the parliamentary complex in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Sirisena government can’t be legal

Jehan Perera, head of the local analyst group National Peace Council, said that the government appointed by the president can’t be called legal because Sirisena had not sought a parliamentary vote when he dismissed Wickremesinghe.

“It can be called illegitimate because provisions for a confidence vote in Parliament are being blocked by the president’s own party through their riotous behavior,” Perera said, referring to a brawl last week that was followed by another pandemonium in the chamber when Rajapaksa loyalists refused to let the speaker conduct proceedings.

Wickremesinghe says his dismissal is invalid because he still holds a majority in the 225-member Parliament. The dismissal is also disputed because of the latest constitutional change, which lawyers say has taken away presidential powers to dismiss the prime minister.

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Sri Lankan former President Mahinda Rajapakse addresses journalists at his residence in Colombo, Sept. 22, 2018. Rajapakse has been appointed the Sri Lanka’s new prime minister. VOA

Life goes on

Despite all the drama and two rival prime ministers, life hasn’t collapsed, thanks to the efficient bureaucracy that keeps the wheels of administration turning.

Even though there is no Cabinet recognized by Parliament, and despite warnings by Wickremesinghe supporters that state officials should not take orders from an “illegal government” of Rajapaksa, bureaucrats continue to work with the president who is the chief executive and the ministers appointed by him, officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Budget dilemma looms

However, decisions regarding new projects or purchases involving large sums of money are on hold.

The absence of a recognized government has delayed the budget for 2019. Mangala Samaraweera, who was finance minister in Wickremesinghe’s Cabinet, said that there will be no legal way of spending money in the coming year without a parliament-approved budget.

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Sri Lanka’s ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reacts during a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, VOA

Sri Lanka’s Constitution says that control over public finances lies with Parliament and no funds can be released without a warrant signed by the finance minister and approved by the legislature. That means all government payments starting from January can be deemed illegal, Samaraweera says.

Sri Lanka is on the brink of an “economic anarchy and chaos as never experienced before.”

“The cavalier and irresponsible actions of the president … based on personal animosities and precipitating a series of illegal acts, places at risk Sri Lanka’s ability to meet its immediate debt obligations,” he said.

Sri Lanka has to repay $1 billion of its foreign loans in early January, which is also in the prerogative of Parliament to approve.

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Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, front left, is sworn in as prime minister before President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Wickremesinghe’s lawmakers have presented a motion to the speaker seeking to block funding to the prime minister’s office, which if passed, would curtail Rajapaksa’s functions.

“As far as the people are concerned, they are witnessing the normal functioning of the country,” insisted government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.

Also Read: Regional Political Turmoil Reflects India-China Rivalry

However, he conceded that Sri Lanka will have issues on accessing government money if the stalemate is not resolved by the end of the year. Sirisena called snap elections for Jan. 5, but the opposition challenged the decision, and the dispute is in court. (VOA)