The government has moved a step towards pushing the Lokpal Bill through Parliament. The Union cabinet on Thursday gave its nod to 14 of the 16 amendments made by the Rajya Sabha Select Committee.
But there’s a long way to go before a Lokpal sees the light of day. The recommendations and the Centre’s views are subject to approval in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill that will be passed in the Upper House is not the one that was cleared by the Lok Sabha in December 2011. So, it will be put to vote in the Lok Sabha again.
Dubbing the cabinet exercise a mere drama, anti-graft activist Anna Hazare said the Bill in its current form is too weak to fight corruption.
V Narayanasamy, minister for personnel, grievances and pension, was non-committal on whether the Bill will be passed in the Budget session.
Select committee chairman Satyavrat Chaturvedi had insisted while presenting the report that the Centre is bound to pass the Bill in the exact form. Narayanasamy, however, claimed that these recommendations are not always binding on the Centre.
A recommendation that was accepted refers to the scrapping of provisions prescribing the legislation of a Lokayukta, the ombudsman envisaged in states, and that within a year of the passing of the Bill in Parliament, states will have to pass their own Lokayukta laws. The Lokpal could be used as a model, but states do not have to replicate the central law to a tee.
Another accepted amendment was on the selection of a Lokpal. The Bill cleared by the Lok Sabha disqualified any one with a “connection to any political party”. The amended phrase reads:
“affiliated with any political party”. This will ease the selection criteria in some ways.
The two amendments which did not receive government approval were on initiating prosecution procedures and the transfer of investigating officers. The government has rejected the Lokpal’s right to prosecute on its own and the refusal to transfer an investigating officer without the Lokpal’s permission. Narayanasamy contended that this would affect the autonomy of the CBI and that Centre is arguing the case on purely technical grounds.
Hazare debunked this claim in Patna. “As long as the investigative agencies like the CBI and the CVC (Central Vigilance Commission) are not made independent like the Election Commission, we cannot eradicate corruption from the country,” he told reporters.
"Both PM and Sonia Gandhi can be trusted no more to bring a stringent Lokpal Bill to root out corruption ... Had they been committed to the issue it would not have taken two years to take a concrete decision in this regard,” Hazare alleged.
Arun Jaitley, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, who was also a member of the select committee, also objected to the government’s rejection of the recommendation on the transfer of investigative officers, saying it was a way for the Centre to have a stranglehold on the CBI, which defeats the idea of an independent probe.