Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the floor leaders of the Rajya Sabha on Friday that the Centre would come forward with an amended version of the Lokpal Bill, taking into account the suggestions made by the Opposition and the constituents and supporting parties of the ruling UPA.
Dr. Singh's assurance is a clear indication of the shift in the government's stance.
The Bill, which has already been passed by the Lok Sabha, was virtually deferred in the Rajya Sabha in the winter session as the ruling combine did not have the numbers to ensure its passage.
Though Dr. Singh and leaders of most parties desired that the Bill be passed in the second phase of the budget session (beginning from April 24), the chances of its passage are not bright, given the divergent views among various parties on some of the contentious issues.
R.C. Singh of the CPI, who took part at the meeting, told The Hindu that most of the Opposition parties and the UPA's ally, the Trinamool Congress, were emphatic that the clauses relating to the setting up of the Lokayuktas should not infringe on the rights of the States.
In its current form, the Bill places the Lokayuktas under Article 253 of the Constitution. Several parties are opposed to it on the ground that the law enacted under the Article is mandatory and leaves the States no leeway to exercise their discretion. They favour that the chapter on the Lokayuktas be deleted or placed under Article 252. The CPI wants the Centre to enact a model law for the States.
There was consensus among a majority of members on the need for either placing the CBI under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal or creating its own investigative wing. Also, most members are not happy with the Lokpal selection process.
The government is vehemently opposed to the idea of giving the Lokpal jurisdiction over the CBI. There was a suggestion from Samajwadi Party leader Mohan Singh to refer the Bill to a select committee. However, there was no response from the Opposition to the idea.
Though most of the members in the Rajya Sabha have an issue with the selection process of the Lokpal, there are differences among them on the exact procedure.
Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said the government should not have the sole say in the appointment and removal of the Lokpal and demanded wider representation for the Opposition and independent institutions.
On the existing provision to bring all NGOs within the ambit of the Lokpal, Mr. Jaitley said that while foreign-funded NGOs could be under its scanner, private NGOs and institutions such as schools and hospitals run by NGOs could be kept out. Mr. Yechury and Mr. Singh wanted inclusion of corporate houses.
Minister of State in the PMO V. Narayanasamy said the government was hopeful of passing the Bill in this session itself. “We have come to a stage where [the] views of various political parties have been heard...now the government will take a decision on how to pass this Bill by consensus.”