Lokpal: Constitutional amendment being mulled



New Delhi: A move to grant constitutional status to Lokpal has gained momentum with a Parliamentary Committee considering a draft legislation to this effect with a provision which will not require ratification by states.

The draft constitutional amendment bill prepared jointly by two former Chief Justices of India - Justice J S Verma and Justice M N Venkatachalaiah - proposes provisions on the lines of Election Commission.

The draft Constitutional (116th) Amendment Bill was submitted to Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice and Personnel by the former CJIs last week.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid had disclosed for the first time that the proposed Lokpal will have the status of a constitutional authority for which purpose the Constitution will be amended, a move which is in line with the suggestion made by Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi.

"We are working on a very strong Lokpal Bill. A Lokpal Bill that will come with a constitutional amendment. That amendment will give the Lokpal the status of a constitutional authority," he had said.

The Lokpal will be "more powerful than the Election Commission" and "will have far greater powers," the minister had said.

Justice Verma said that the amendment bill can be passed in a "single day, even on the first day of Winter Session", allaying fears that the constitutional amendment could delay the setting up Lokpal as claimed Team Anna.

Describing the draft bill as as an "important idea", Committee Chairman Abhishek Singhvi said, "This is part of the continuing process of getting direct inputs from diverse sections of society. It will be thrashed out. As far as nitty gritty is concerned, it will be when the committee starts its internal deliberations."

Justice Verma said the state legislatures need not ratify the amendment.

Under Article 368, it is necessary to ratify a Constitutional amendment related to a specified set of matters by no less than one half of the states. Issues falling under Article 54, 55, 73, 162 and 241 fall under this category.

However, the amendment to grant constitutional status to Lokpal does not fall under this category and only Parliament need to pass the constitutional amendment by two-third of majority, Justice Verma maintained.

He said while everybody supports a strong Lokpal, "there can't be a stronger Lokpal than a constitutional body. If it is done, it will be part of the Constitution."

The proposed amendment seeks to insert 'Part XVA' after 'Part XV' that deals with elections and the role of Election Commission.

The proposed 'Part XVA' makes provision for inserting Article 329 C and Article 329 D. While Article 329 C will incorporate a commitment that there "shall be a Lokpal", whose powers shall be specified by a separate law made by Parliament, Article 329 D will incorporate a commitment in the Constitution that there shall be a Lokayukta for every state whose powers will be "specified by law made by the appropriate legislature."

Asked as to when the Committee will submit its report and whether it would be done so in the winter session, Singhvi said, till now this is the fastest moving committee. No time line can be given.

When told that Parliament has given three months to the Committee to give the report, he said that the panel was reconstituted in late September and it has been just one month since then.

PTI