File-Sanjay Rawat
Union Cabinet Clears Amendments to Lokpal Bill
The government today amended the controversial Lokpal Bill, delinking it from the setting up of Lokayuktas in the states and transferring powers of sanction of prosecution against public servant to the ombudsman.

The Union Cabinet accepted 14 of the 16 recommendations made by the Rajya Sabha Select Committee, which was set up in May last year amid sharp differences among political parties because of which the legislation was stuck in the Upper House since December 2011.

The approval of the official amendments paves the way for consideration of the bill afresh by the Rajya Sabha during the Budget Session expected to begin towards the end of February.

After getting a nod from the Upper House, the bill with amendments will go back for fresh approval to Lok Sabha where it has already been passed.

The government, however, did not accept the recommendation wherein an accused public servant would get no chance to present his view before preliminary inquiry is initiated.

It also did not accept the recommendation that transfer of CBI officers assigned by Lokpal to investigate a case cannot be transferred without the approval of the anti-graft watchdog, saying it will affect the smooth functioning of CBI.

Among the recommendations accepted by the government is the one about delinking Lokayukta from the Lokpal Bill, an issue which was one of the most controversial provisions with several parties contending that it amounts to the central government encroaching upon the rights of the states.

The select committee had recommended that the state governments will have to set up Lokayuktas within one year of enactment of Lokpal.

The bill will have the provision of appointment of CBI Director by a three-member collegium comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.

Explaining the provision on the appointment of CBI chief, Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy said the clause already existed in the Lokpal Bill passed by Lok Sabha.

Asked why the select committee made a recommendation which was already part of the bill, he said, "May be the committee wanted to reaffirm its stand on the issue."

The government accepted the recommendation of the committee that the power to grant sanction for prosecution of public servants could be shifted to Lokpal in place of the government.

It also agreed with the recommendation that Lokpal may be required to seek comments of the competent authority and the public servant before taking such a decision.

The Rajya Sabha panel had recommended exclusion of bodies and institutions receiving donations from the public from the purview of Lokpal.

Since bodies receiving donations from the public were also covered in the original Lokpal Bill, the government has not accepted the recommendation.

But, at the same time, it was decided today to exempt only bodies or authorities established under a central or state act providing for administration of public, religious or charitable trusts registered under the Societies Registration Act.

The panel had recommended that seeking of comments from public servant during preliminary enquiry should not be mandatory. But the government felt that providing an opportunity to public servant and to the government at that stage would help clear doubts in several cases and would substantially reduce the number of cases going for regular investigation.

Also, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) felt that the "principle of protection" cannot be denied to a public servant.

Narayanasami admitted that the Law Ministry had earlier supported the panel's suggestion. "But now they have revised their draft and agreed with DoPT," he said.

A similar recommendation of the select committee to dispense with the opportunity of hearing the public servant before ordering regular investigation by Lokpal in clause 20(3) of the bill has also not been accepted.

The Rajya Sabha panel had recommended a number of amendments in the bill to strengthen CBI, including setting up of a Directorate of Prosecution headed by a Director of Prosecution under the overall control of the CBI chief.

It had also suggested appointment of Director of Prosecution on the recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commission and maintenance of a panel of advocates by CBI, other than the government law officers with the consent of Lokpal for handling cases referred to by the ombudsman.

The committee had also proposed provision of adequate funds to CBI for investigating cases referred to by Lokpal.

Narayanasami said the government has accepted the recommendations.

Referring to the recommendation that Lokpal should be given the power to order an investigation straightaway without first ordering a preliminary inquiry in case it finds that a prima facie case exists, the Minister said the government has accepted the suggestion partially.

He said as per the modification proposed by the government, Lokpal should, before coming to a conclusion that prima facie a case exists for entrusting the matter for investigation, call for the explanation of the public servant.

Asked why political parties have not been included under the ambit of Lokpal, Narayanasami said the committee had not made any such recommendation.

Minister for Information and Broadcasting Manish Tewari said political parties are covered by Representation of People Act and the Election Commission was also part of the mechanism to keep check on parties.
Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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