Should Lokpal members contest polls?

New Delhi: Can the proposed 11-member Lokpal contest elections after demitting office.

This ticklish issue came up at the sixth meeting of the joint drafting committee on Lokpal Bill on June 15, which the Anna Hazare team boycotted.

Sources said the ministers could not arrive at a conclusion on the question and decided to keep the provision of barring chairperson and members of the Lokpal from contesting elections in the draft untouched.

The five ministers left it to the wisdom of the Union Cabinet on the issue.

Section 5(8) of the Lokpal Bill version 2.3 says, "The chairperson or members shall not be eligible for appointment on any position in Government of India or Government of any state or for fighting elections, if he has ever held the position of the chairperson or a member for any period."

In the meeting, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal said there was a need to take a view on whether the Lokpal members can contest elections.

According to the sources, Finance Minister and chairman of the committee Pranab Mukherjee said a person's eligibility to contest elections was determined by the Constitution and wondered whether to make the members of Lokpal ineligible to contest was legally possible.

To this, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily observed that such a bar would require a constitutional amendment. Water Resources Minister Salman Khurshid voiced his opposition to bar the members from contesting elections.

Following this, the committee decided to leave it to the cabinet a decision on the matter and added a provision that the members would not be eligible for to the office of President, Vice President, Parliament, Assemblies and local bodies.

The Lokpal version 2.3 also says that the Lokpal members shall not be serving or former MPs and MLAs and shall not hold any office or trust of profit or would have ever been connected with any political party.

The civil society had boycotted the meeting of June six to protest against the police crackdown against Ramdev and his followers who were agitating against corruption and bringing back blackmoney from abroad.

On the contentious issue of inclusion of Prime Minister under the ambit of the Lokpal, Mukherjee observed that so long as the Prime Minister holds the office, any inquiry should be suspended and the Lokpal may keep the matter of inquiry with himself.

However, he said, the moment the Prime Minister demits office, the inquiry can proceed.

Sources said Sibal then enquired whether former ministers would be covered by the Lokpal Act. Home Minister P Chidambaram suggested that since Lokpal would be a new authority, it had to be made clear as to who would be covered.

Chidambaram was of the view that all those who were covered under the Prevention of Corruption Act should be brought under the ambit of Lokpal even if they have retired or demited office.

In the meeting, the sources said, the committee decided to include ministers, former ministers, MPs and former MPs. On the limitation period for initiating inquiries by Lokpal, the committee decided that whatever limitation period is applicable under the Prevention of Corruption Act should apply in the Lokpal also.