Amendments a farce: Hazare; Govt. not serious on autonomy, says BJP

Nearly two years after anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and his team had begun their crusade for a strong and independent Lokpal, the Union Cabinet on Thursday approved amendments to the official version of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, based on suggestions made by the Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha, represented by all major political parties. The amendments were promptly dismissed by Mr. Hazare as “a farce,” while the BJP accused the government of not being serious about making Lokpal appointment free from government control and providing the Central Bureau of Investigation autonomy. The party also questioned its right to make amendments, saying the legislation was a property of the House and any change could be made only by the Rajya Sabha.

The Cabinet approved the committee’s suggestions for delinking the Central government from creation of Lokayuktas in the States, and for appointment of a Director of Prosecution by the Central Vigilance Commission under the CBI Director.

While the overwhelming demand for taking the CBI and the CVC out of the purview of the ombudsman was not even on the agenda, the Cabinet rejected the committee recommendation that the Lokpal’s approval be sought for transfer of CBI officers investigating cases referred to by it. This, the government maintained, was an administrative matter so that the “smooth functioning of CBI would not suffer.”

While approving the amendment on establishment of Lokayuktas, the Cabinet upheld the suggestion that the States enact the institution of Lokayukta within a year of the notification of the Lokpal Bill with freedom to decide the contours of the Act.

The power to grant sanction for prosecution of public servants will shift from the government to the Lokpal.

The Cabinet did not accept a key suggestion that a public servant facing an inquiry need not be given a hearing during preliminary inquiry and also before ordering regular investigation by the Lokpal.

The Lokpal can order an investigation straight away (without a preliminary inquiry) if a prima facie case exists, but only after calling for explanation from the public servant.

Only those bodies or authorities set up under any Central or State Act providing for administration of public religious or charitable trusts or societies for religious or charitable purposes, registered under the Societies Registration Act, would be exempt from Lokpal purview.

The Cabinet approved the suggestion that the fifth member (an eminent jurist) of the selection committee for appointment of the Lokpal be nominated by the President on the recommendation of the panel members. This committee shall comprise the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.

“The government has accepted 14 of the 16 amendments recommended by the Select Committee,” Minister for Personnel V. Narayanasamy said after the Cabinet meeting.

The amendments of the government will have to be approved when the Bill comes up for passage in the Rajya Sabha ostensibly during the budget session. If the amendments are carried, the amended Bill will go back to the Lok Sabha for fresh approval. The Lok Sabha passed the Bill in December 2011.