Lokpal Bill discussed informally at Cabinet meet

Amid govt`s keenness to introduce Lokpal Bill before end of Winter Session, Union Cabinet on Sunday had informal discussions on the legislation.

New Delhi: Amid the government`s keenness to
introduce Lokpal Bill in Parliament before the end of Winter
Session on December 22, the Union Cabinet on Sunday night had informal
discussions on the much-hyped legislation which is expected to
be taken up by the Cabinet formally tomorrow.

The Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh, was briefed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the
salient features of the Lokpal Bill, sources said.

Mukherjee told the meeting that the draft of the bill was
being finalised, incorporating recommendations of the
Parliamentary Standing Committee which examined the
legislation and certain suggestions made at the all-party
meeting convened by the Prime Minister on last Wednesday.

There was some discussion on it at the meeting and it was
decided that another meeting would be called tomorrow,
possibly in the evening, to consider it formally.

Some ministers, including Overseas Indian Affairs
Minister Vayalar Ravi, are understood to have suggested that
the government`s "pro-poor image" should be kept in mind while
drafting the bill, amid questions as to whether corporate
houses should be included.

After the Cabinet meeting, Mukherjee, Home Minister P
Chidambaram, Law Minister Salman Khurshid and MoS in PMO V
Narayanasamy stayed back to discuss the matter further with
the Prime Minister, the sources said.

With the threat of Anna Hazare`s hunger strike from
December 27 looming large, the government is striving to table
the Lokpal Bill in Parliament on December 20, three days
before expiry of the Winter Session.

Among the proposals considered were bringing the Prime
Minister under the proposed anti-graft ombudsman with certain
conditions like the requirement of cognisance by three-fourth
of the Lokpal bench about any complaint.

The Bill is also expected to have the provision for
Lokpal supervising CBI on corruption cases referred by it.

There may also be a proposal for creation of an
independent `Directorate of Prosecution`, carving out from the
CBI. Accordingly, the Bill is likely to suggest that the Delhi
Special Police Establishment Act be amended, sources said.

With regard to demand for inclusion of Group `C`
employees, the sources said discussions are underway to create
an "appropriate mechanism" for this.

One of the suggestions in this regard is placing them
under the purview of the CVC who would be asked to report the
progress on anti-corruption cases to Lokpal.

The bill is also expected to provide for removal of the
Lokpal Chairman or member if a joint complaint is made by at
least 100 MPs.

The legislation also is likely to provide for 50 per cent
reservation to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs,
minorities and women in the Lokpal bench on the lines of
demand raised by almost all the parties, except BJP, at
Wednesday`s meeting, the sources said.

"You all know that how many days are left (for Parliament
session). We have literally worked day and night to ensure
that we meet the deadlines," Law Minister Salman Khurshid told
reporters today.

"Let us just get the bill done and bring it to the
Cabinet so that it can be brought before Parliament as quickly
as possible," he said amid the looming threat of Anna Hazare
to go on hunger strike from December 27 if the legislation is
not enacted by then.

Referring to the various proposals floating around,
Khurshid said, "the Government is not taking up anything as
outstanding view but fine tuning keeping in mind the basic
structure of the law... to ensure that we take public
confidence with us because we are also determined and committed
to a very powerful Lokpal Bill."

The Parliamentary Committee had recommended reservation
for SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities and women in the Search
Committee which will assist the Selection Committee to select
Lokpal. However, it was silent on reservation in the Lokpal.

If reservation is provided in the Lokpal panel, it will
become the first Constitutional body to have the provision.

On the issue of PM, the Standing Committee had refused to
take a position but recommended three options -- inclusion
without exception and qualifications, inclusion with no
exclusionary caveats but after demitting office and inclusion
with exclusions on issues like national security and foreign
affairs and some others.

Making CBI, or its anti-corruption wing, a part of Lokpal
still remains a contentious issue.

The Lokpal Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha in August
this year says that "Lokpal shall constitute an Investigation
Wing for the purpose of conducting investigation of any offence
alleged to have been committed by a public servant punishable
under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988."

Several parties, however, are insisting that CBI`s
anti-corruption wing should be under Lokpal to give it teeth.

On the inclusion of group C employees under the amit of
Lokpal, one of the options with the government is
recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which
had recommended a "broad supervisory fusion at the apex level"
by some changes in the CVC Act.


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