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Endgame on Lokpal legislation uncertain

Endgame on Lokpal legislation uncertain
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First Published: Wed, Dec 21 2011. 01 15 AM IST

Updated: Wed, Dec 21 2011. 10 16 AM IST
New Delhi: Disregarding activist Anna Hazare’s threats to launch a fresh stir, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has kept the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) outside the purview of the anti-graft Lokpal that will enjoy constitutional status.
With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rejecting key provisions of the Bill approved by the cabinet late on Tuesday, the stage is set for yet another confrontation both within and outside Parliament. The BJP, in its dissent note submitted to the standing committee on the Lokpal Bill, had demanded that the prosecution wing of the CBI should be hived off and only the investigative powers be retained.
The UPA, which has been put on the defensive for most of this year, may find it extremely difficult to fend off the latest political challenge, unless the BJP, the main opposition party, blinks.
The Bill, which will create a powerful ombudsman, the Lokpal, is expected to be taken up in the Lok Sabha on 22 December. It’s not clear if the winter session will be extended in order to debate and pass the Bill. The session is currently scheduled to end on Friday.
However, Hazare and his team, which spearheaded a nationwide campaign seeking an anti-graft legislation, has rejected the Bill. It was drafted after a series of discussions and negotiations within the government, and with political parties and representatives from Hazare’s team. “Have you ever heard of an independent investigating body without any investigating powers?” Hazare’s associate Kiran Bedi wrote in a Twitter message. “This kind of Lokpal be better not passed. Or else it will destroy whatever is left of CBI.”
Similarly, the BJP made its opposition amply clear.
“We have expressed our position in our dissent notes. We want a free and independent Lokpal, with an independent CBI as a basic ingredient. If it’s not there, then there is no meaning to the Lokpal,” party spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said. The party has decided to seek amendments in the proposed Bill if its suggestions are not incorporated.
For the Bill to become law, each House must support it by a two-thirds majority and ensure that half of the House is present while voting. In addition, it should also be backed by more than half of the state assemblies.
Earlier in the day, Hazare reiterated his decision to go on a three-day fast beginning 27 December, saying the government did not keep its promises. Hazare was referring to a resolution passed by Parliament during the monsoon session expressing the sense of the House for a strong Lokpal Bill.
Instead of putting CBI under the Lokpal, the Bill suggests that the agency could report to the ombudsman only on the cases referred to the CBI. However, the government agreed to review the terms of appointment of the CBI director. According to the proposals in the Bill, the Lokpal cannot initiate any inquiry suo motu and can act only after a complaint is lodged.
A panel of five, including the Prime Minister, the speaker of the Lok Sabha, the leader of the opposition in the lower house, the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and a government-nominated jurist will select the proposed eight-member Lokpal body. The Bill also proposes that a former CJI, a Supreme Court judge or an eminent person nominated by the President could head the Lokpal.
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The Bill seeks to provide 50% reservation for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, minorities, other backward classes and women in the eight-member panel.
The panel, which will have constitutional status as suggested by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on 26 August in the Lok Sabha, will be accountable to Parliament. The watchdog will have the powers to carry out preliminary inquiry headed by a director of inquiry and will have a prosecution wing under a director. The Lokpal will have a term of five years and its chairman or members can be impeached only after at least 100 members of Parliament make a representation.
On the issue of bringing the PM under the Lokpal, one of the contentious issues, the final draft suggests that the head of government could be brought within the ambit of the body, but with certain safeguards. This excludes aspects such as international relations, public order, atomic energy, space, internal and external security from the inquiry. Probes into any complaint against the PM will be decided by the full bench, of which at least three-fourths should agree.
The probe will be held in-camera and if a complaint is dismissed, the records shouldn’t be made public, the draft proposes.
Further amending the existing norms for the CBI’s functioning, the government proposed that a panel comprising the central vigilance commissioner, the home secretary and secretary of the department of personnel and training will appoint those of the rank of superintendent of police and above in CBI.
A parliamentary standing committee that studied the Bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha during the monsoon session, had rejected Hazare’s demands such as the inclusion of CBI and the lower bureaucracy belonging to Group C under the purview of the legislation. However, the panel, headed by Congress Rajya Sabha member Abhishek Singhvi, had left the decision on bringing the PM under the ambit of the Lokpal open to Parliament. The BJP and the Left parties back Hazare’s demands on these issues. However, 17 members, including three from the Congress, had given their dissent notes on various aspects in the report.
In April and August, Hazare led a massive public agitation in Delhi triggering similar demonstrations in many cities across the country. He had also rejected the draft Bill saying it was a “toothless” measure inadequate to curb rampant corruption.
The government, which has introduced the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011, or the citizen’s charter Bill, in Parliament, is also expected to present in the House the Judicial Accountability Bill and Whistleblowers’ Bill to reform the judiciary and to protect those who expose corruption and scams in the winter session.
Rejecting the citizens’ charter Bill, Hazare alleged that the people of the country had been cheated by the government and he would go ahead with plans to campaign against it in the assembly elections in five poll-bound states, including Uttar Pradesh. “Let the government go its way, we’ll go our way. I’ve decided that I will continue to fight till there is life in me,” the 74-year-old activist told reporters at his village Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra.
The Congress played down the reaction. “It is not the government’s job to ensure passage of every Bill according to the demands of a group of persons who appear to threaten a fast every second,” Singhvi said. “The government can do what it thinks appropriate. Dissenters can do what they think appropriate.”
liz.m@livemint.com
PTI contributed to this story.
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First Published: Wed, Dec 21 2011. 01 15 AM IST
More Topics: Lokpal Bill | Legislation | Anna Hazare | CBI | PM |