Forty-three years after the first draft was conceived, the Union Cabinet on Thursday approved a Lokpal Bill, keeping outside its purview a serving Prime Minister, the higher judiciary and the conduct of MPs inside Parliament.
The Bill, which includes some provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill, provides for setting up the institution of Lokpal to probe allegations of corruption against a Union Minister or officials of Group A and above without having to obtain any sanction. It will have its own investigation and prosecution wings but no powers to prosecute. It would recommend prosecution to the Supreme Court.
At the Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the United Progressive Alliance government had on board all its alliance partners except the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam that went unrepresented. The DMK earlier demanded that the Prime Minister be covered under the Bill.
The Bharatiya Janata Party too expressed “disappointment” over the exclusion of the Prime Minister.
Terming the Bill “unacceptable,” social activist Anna Hazare, who had initiated a movement in April demanding the anti-corruption legislation, announced his decision to go on an indefinite fast to press for a revised Bill that would be “strong and effective.”
Briefing journalists on the Cabinet meeting, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said Dr. Singh had insisted that his office be included in the legislation but the Cabinet decided otherwise, considering that such a move might have an adverse effect on the stability of the government.
The Bill provides for inquiry into allegations of corruption against the Prime Minister after he or she demits office.
It provides for a time limitation period of seven years from the date of taking cognisance of an offence. In the case of the Prime Minister, the limitation period will apply after he or she demits office.
The Lokpal will comprise a chairperson and eight members, half of them judicial. A panel headed by the Prime Minister will select the Lokpal.
The Lokpal will have a five-year tenure and would be removed by the President on a reference of the Supreme Court.
Separately, the government will bring in legislation on Judicial Standards and Accountability, protection to whistle-blowers, and on a grievance redress mechanism.
The Bill does not provide for constitution of Lokayuktas in States. It will be introduced in Parliament during the first two days of the session beginning August 1.