Group C staff too can come under ombudsman; allies not for CBI within its ambit

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government crossed the first hurdle to passing the Lokpal Bill, when a “broad consensus” was achieved at a meeting of UPA leaders, a day ahead of the crucial all-party meeting.

Emerging from the meeting, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, describing the deliberations as “useful,” said there was a “broad consensus” on major issues.

While there was agreement that the office of Prime Minister should be included within the ambit of the Bill, with some conditions (excluding matters relating to external affairs, national security, etc.), and that Group C employees, too, should come within the purview of the proposed ombudsman, the allied parties, sources said, were opposed to bringing the Central Bureau of Investigation under the Lokpal, or including the Citizens' Charter.

At the meeting, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Mr. Chidambaram and chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee that produced the report on the Lokpal Bill Abhishek Manu Singhvi briefed the members. All the leaders of the allied parties, too, expressed their views.

Those who attended the meeting at 7 Race Course Road included Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi, the DMK's T.R. Baalu, Union Minister and Nationalist Congress Party leader Praful Patel, Non-conventional Energy Minister and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and the new entrant and Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh.

3 anti-graft Bills passed

The meeting with the allies came close on the heels of the Cabinet clearing three major draft anti-graft Bills — the Citizen's Charter Bill, the Judicial Accountability Bill and the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill (whistle-blowers' Bill). The government pushed the three Bills through on Tuesday as an indication of its seriousness in tackling corruption, and to counter the joint attack mounted by the Opposition and Team Anna.

The Congress' Core Group, too, met earlier in the day to finalise its strategy on the Lokpal issue ahead of the meeting of UPA leaders on Tuesday, and with Opposition leaders on Wednesday. The Group discussed the Opposition-sponsored adjournment motion on black money that is likely to come up on Wednesday. Apart from Dr. Singh and Ms. Gandhi, Mr. Mukherjee, Mr. Chidambaram, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and the Congress president's political secretary Ahmed Patel were present.

Meanwhile, the CBI wrote to the government, expressing its unhappiness over issues related to the Lokpal Bill, saying many of its clauses would severely impair the functioning of the investigating agency. In its letter to the Department of Personnel and Training, the CBI said the move to make preliminary enquiry by the Lokpal mandatory before giving cases to the CBI would “severely impair” the effectiveness of the agency in anti-corruption cases. For, it would lose the “surprise element” to carry out search operations, sources said.

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