The Abhishek Singhvi-headed Parliamentary Standing Committee will meet on Wednesday to adopt its draft report on the Lokpal Bill but with dissent notes on as many as 18 items appended, members say it is unlikely to be a cordial affair. Thereafter, the draft report is likely to be tabled in Parliament on December 9, before it goes back to the Union Cabinet for approval. The United Progressive Alliance government is very keen on bringing in the Bill for consideration and passage in this very session of Parliament.
The 18 points on which members differ cover a wide gamut of issues, from inclusion of the Prime Minister, or inclusion with conditions, or exclusion; to whether the appointment of the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation should be taken out of the government's hands; to whether the lower bureaucracy should be part of this bill; to the kind of mechanism there should be for removal of the Lokpal; and to whether citizens' grievances should be part of the Bill.
One irate opposition MP told The Hindu: “The Congress does not want to include Group C employees in the Bill, but the draft report has recommended that Group C and D state employees come under the respective State Lokayuktas.”
While it looks as though the government may eventually include the office of Prime Minister, but with some conditions, either after the Prime Minister demits office or by excluding issues relating to foreign affairs and national security, it will find it hard to accept inclusion of Group C employees: the government's spokespersons have already said publicly that including 57 lakh of them will ensure that the Lokpal is not able to function at all.
Of course, the draft report has said that once the Lokpal gets going, the question of including Group C employees can be considered at a later stage. For the present, it suggests that complaints against the lower bureaucracy can be handled by the other autonomous anti-corruption body, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). However, if the government sticks to its stand on keeping the lower bureaucracy out of the Bill, it will once again have to deal with not just the Opposition but also anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare.
Indeed, with Mr. Hazare's shadow looming over, the working of this Standing Committee has been riddled with controversy from the very start: compounding it was the last meeting where Congress members recanted on two issues they had accepted a day earlier — the inclusion of the lower bureaucracy and taking the appointment of the CBI Director out of the government's hands.
Meanwhile, the draft report has recommended that Article 311 of the Constitution be relooked at to ensure that while reasonable protection is given to bureaucrats for independent and fair discharge of duty, procedural rules do not prevent departmental action against corrupt officials. But tinkering with this constitutional provision could be a tough call.