Cabinet Clears Lokpal Bill With Amendments, Keeps Parties Out Of Its Ambit

NEW DELHI (TIP): The Lokpal Billcleared by the Cabinet on January 31excludes political parties from itsjurisdiction and also rejects theproposal for the appointment of theCentral Bureau of Investigation chiefby a collegium comprising the PM,leader of opposition and the ChiefJustice of India.Minister of state for PMO VNarayanasamy informed the Cabinetthat political parties were being keptoutside the purview of the anti-graftombudsman as their functioning wascovered by the Representation ofPeople’s Act.The explanation is unlikely toconvince activist groups led by AnnaHazare and Arvind Kejriwal who feelthe bill falls well short of theirconcept of a strong and independentlokpal.

The main opposition BJP isinsistent on a collegium deciding theappointment of the CBI chief ratherthan the consultative process set outin the bill that was examined by aselect committee of Parliament.Explaining the provision on theappointment of CBI chief,Narayanasamy claimed a clausealready existed in the Lokpal Billpassed by Lok Sabha. Asked why theselect committee made arecommendation which was alreadypart of the bill, he said, “Maybe thecommittee wanted to reaffirm itsstand on the issue.” However, the LokSabha version does not envisage acollegium.

Bill may pass House test
Official sources said the governmentis hopeful of the bill’s passage in theforthcoming budget session as the legislation will need a simple majoritythat the ruling coalition thinks it candrum up now that a controversialprescription for state lokayuktas hasbeen dropped.

In the face of a strong publicsentiment in favor of accountabilityand opposition parties looking to putUPA-2 in the dock over corruptioncases, the government has travelled aconsiderable distance on the LokpalBill, conceding much more than it wasearlier willing to.The select committee’srecommendation to do away withmandatory sanctions required toproceed against senior officials hasbeen accepted with the caveat that theorganization or individual againstwhom an investigation report is filedwill be given an opportunity to presenthis case before a lokpal bench.

This is a major concession as thebureaucracy has vociferously arguedthat this will strip officials ofprotection against motivatedcomplaints. However, the sanctionprocess has been used to delayprosecution, helping tainted officialsevade criminal proceedings aswitnesses are influenced and evidenceerased.The ombudsman will have aprosecution wing of its own but willnot have a say in the transfer ofofficials investigating a case taken upby it. The CBI will report to the lokpalwith regard to cases under lokpalscrutiny and the body will be able toask any relevant agency to take up aninvestigation.In all, the government accepted 14 of16 recommendations of the selectcommittee.

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On the committee’s view on lokpalapproval for transfer of CBI officersinvestigating cases referred by theanti-graft body, the government feltthis would affect smooth functioning ofthe investigating agency. The move is,however, seen as an attempt to keep ahold over officers of the agency.The bill excludes people “affiliated”with any political party from becomingmember of lokpal and keeps religiousand charitable organizations out of thepurview of the anti-graft body.Trusts like the one under yoga guruBaba Ramdev will, however, comeunder the purview of lokpal.Narayanasamy said, “Ramdev’s trust isnot a religious trust and therefore itwill definitely be under the lokpal.

“The Rajya Sabha panel hadrecommended exclusion of bodies andinstitutions receiving donations fromthe public from the purview of lokpal.Since bodies receiving donations fromthe public were also covered in theoriginal Lokpal Bill, the governmentdid not accept the recommendation.However, at the same time, it decidedto exempt bodies or authoritiesestablished under a central or state Actproviding for administration of public,religious or charitable trustsregistered under the SocietiesRegistration Act.

The approval of the officialamendments now paves the way forconsideration of the bill afresh by theRajya Sabha during the budget sessionexpected to begin towards the end ofFebruary.After getting a nod from the UpperHouse, the bill with amendments willgo back for fresh approval to LokSabha where it has already beenpassed.The government accepted therecommendation of the committee thatthe power to grant sanction forprosecution of public servants couldbe shifted to lokpal in place of thegovernment. It also agreed with therecommendation that lokpal may berequired to seek comments of thecompetent authority and the publicservant before taking such a decision.

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