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Lokpal Bill introduced in LS, BJP for PM’s inclusion

The much-hyped Lokpal Bill, which aims to set up an anti-corruption watchdog in the country, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Thursday.



New Delhi: The Lokpal Bill, which excludes the office of the Prime Minister, higher judiciary and conduct of MPs inside Parliament from the purview of the anti-corruption watchdog, was introduced in Lok Sabha on Thursday amid objections by
BJP and its NDA partners.

The Lokpal Bill, 2011 introduced by Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy, seeks to keep the office of the Prime Minister outside the purview of the ombudsman during his term in office.

The institution would inquire into allegations of corruption in respect of the Prime Minister only after he demits office.

Government has maintained that the conduct of judiciary will be covered by the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill pending with a Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Similarly, the conduct of MPs has also been excluded from the ambit of Lokpal as under Article 105 (2) "no member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament..."

Just before introduction of the bill, Speaker Meira Kumar gave permission to Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj to express her views as a special case.

Swaraj asked when the Prime Minister does not enjoy immunity from prosecution under the criminal law and Prevention of Corruption Act, why he was being kept out of the ambit of the Lokpal.

She maintained that as per the Constitution, everybody was equal and there is no immunity from IPC, CrPC or the Prevention of Corruption Act.

"It is for the first time that under Clause 2 of the Lokpal Bill, all Union ministers are included except the Prime Minister. I don`t understand why. How can anybody occupying any position be a holy cow. Why is the Prime Minister being kept out of its purview?" Swaraj posed.

She said as chairperson of the then Standing Committee on Home, Pranab Mukherjee had accepted that the Prime Minister should be within the purview of the Lokpal. "The Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) has himself said he wants to be
within its ambit. Why is the Cabinet not paying heed to his views?" she asked.

Mukherjee told the House that Swaraj`s contention that he gave his nod to the NDA Lokpal Bill is true.

"On February 16, 2002 as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Home, I had placed that bill on the table of the House. NDA had two full years after that. Why did they not bring the bill," Mukherjee wondered.

Under the provisions of the Bill, the Lokpal will presume that a public servant has acquired assets through corrupt means if he or she fails to declare them or gives any misleading information.

The Lokpal can also recommend transfer or suspension of public servants connected with allegations of corruption.

The anti-corruption watchdog would take up corruption matters involving ministers, MPs, Group `A` officers and others equivalent to this grade in any body, board, authority, corporation, trust, society or autonomous body set up by an Act of Parliament.

The Lokpal, consisting of Chairperson and eight members, half of them judicial, will have its own prosecution and investigation wing with officers and staff necessary to carry out its functions.

Persons with impeccable integrity, with 25 years of experience in administration who have dealt with corruption and vigilance, would also form part of the Lokpal.

According to one of the provisions of the bill, the Lokpal cannot look into complaints against any of its members or the Chairman. Such complaints would be referred to the Chief Justice of India by the President.

The Lokpal would not require sanction or approval under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, or Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, in cases where prosecution is proposed.

The Lokpal will also have powers to attach the property of corrupt public servants acquired through corrupt means.

At the same time, the bill provides for prosecution for false complaint. The punishment term would not be less than two years in jail. The prison term can extend up to five years.

A penalty ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2 lakh is also proposed on people found guilty of making false complaints. The public servant is also entitled to compensation.

The anti-corruption watchdog can also seek the assistance of the Centre and the state government in conducting inquiries.

It provides for a time limitation period of seven years from the date of taking cognisance of an offence. In the case of the Prime Minister, the limitation period will apply after he or she demits office.

The measure does not provide for constitution of Lokayukta as in states.

The expenses to run the institution would be borne out of the Consolidated Fund of India.

The government hopes if the Standing Committee comes out with its recommendations on the bill by August-end, it could then go ahead with its passage.

The Lokpal Bill has had a long and chequered history. Legislations in the past had included the Prime Minister within the ambit of the bill only on a few occasions.

The National Commission for Review of the Working of the Constitution in 2001 had recommended that the Prime Minister be kept out of the Lokpal`s purview since he occupies a unique position and is the head of the entire governmental structure.

The Commission, headed by retired Chief Justice MN Venkatachaliah, had said that the Prime Minister as the symbol of stability and continuity of the regime should not be exposed to the risks of well-orchestrated attempts to malign his image and reputation.

The idea of Lokpal emanated from the office of Ombudsman prevalent in Scandinavian countries.

The first legislative attempt at Lokpal in India fell after the bill was passed in the 4th Lok Sabha in 1969 but could not get through in Rajya Sabha.

Subsequently, Lokpal bills were introduced in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008.

PTI

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