Lokpal Bill cleaned up, headed for Cabinet today

Parliament session may be extended by three days to pass legislation

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's drafting team finally cleared the text of the controversial Lokpal Bill on Monday, and postponed the Cabinet meeting, which will consider it, to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, official sources said.

A group of senior Ministers P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Salman Khursheed — all lawyers and members of the original joint drafting committee with Anna Hazare — and MoS in the Prime Minister's Office and Department of Personnel V. Narayanasamy met in the afternoon in the office of the Home Minister Chidambaram, who chaired the meeting. It went through the draft Bill, clause by clause, and “cleaned” it up.

“We have finished cleaning up the draft,” Law Minister Khursheed said, emerging from the meeting. Officials, who have been working through the last three nights drafting the Bill, will now give the finishing touches, he said. These Ministers, the sources said, were scheduled to meet Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for him to take another look at it.

The Cabinet note and the “cleaned-up” draft Lokpal Bill will be sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for final clearance, ahead of Tuesday's Cabinet meeting. Though the basic draft has been ready for the last few days, with Mr. Mukherjee guiding the process, a senior Minister involved in the exercise said that given the legal and constitutional implications of the proposed legislation, the government wanted to get every detail right.

The government's concern has been that the system of checks and balances inherent in the Constitution should not be disturbed by the creation of the Lokpal. A key Minister pointed out that the two issues which have engaged the government most through the drafting process are working out the equation between the Lokpal and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and between the Lokpal and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).

Selecting CBI director

The government draft has recommended a special procedure to select the director of the CBI; the Lokpal will be entitled to hold preliminary enquiries, but the investigation will be done by the CBI. It also looked as though the government will accede to the BJP's demand that the CBI's investigating and prosecution arms be separated, but this remains a contentious point. While Team Anna had wanted the lower bureaucracy to be included in the Lokpal Bill, the government was looking for a halfway house, bringing it technically under the Lokpal, leaving the actual enquiries and investigations to be done by the CVC, which will report back to the Lokpal from time to time.

The legality of reservation in a constitutional panel was also examined, it is learnt, with some questioning whether this is possible. However, government sources said that while this had not been done in the past, there was no constitutional bar to it.

The Bill that is to be introduced will be a fresh Bill: “Over 60 amendments would have been necessary to the original government bill,” a senior Minister said, “so we decided that it would be too messy — so this is a new Bill, and before it is introduced in Parliament, the original one will be withdrawn.”

The government is racing against time to get the Bill passed this week itself, perhaps extending the session by a day to December 23, but if necessary it will hold sittings on December 27, 28 and 29.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 1:14:37 PM |

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