Govt clears 14 major changes to Lokpal Bill

The Cabinet Thursday cleared the amendments the government proposes to make in the controversial Lokpal Bill when it is tabled for consideration in the Rajya Sabha during the Budget session, including dropping the contentious provision about setting up Lokayuktas in the states, hoping that this would clear the way for its passage.

The amendments include doing away with the requirement — under Section 6A of the Delhi (Special Police) Establishment Act — of prior sanction to launch a preliminary enquiry and prosecution against any government of India official of the rank of joint secretary and above. The only safeguard which will be put in place is that the official concerned would be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.

"Lokpal can order investigation against a public servant, in case a prima facie case exists, after calling for explanation from the public servant. Opportunity to be given to public servant to be heard. Lokpal to have power to grant sanction for prosecution of public servants," an official statement said.

V Narayanasamy, minister of state for personnel and training, said the government has accepted 14 of the amendments proposed by the Rajya Sabha select committee, set up last year after differences between the government and opposition parties resulted in the legislation getting stuck in the upper house after being cleared by the Lok Sabha in December 2011.

While agreeing to delete the contentious Part III of the legislation, the Centre will propose putting in place a new section which will provide for setting up of Lokayuktas in states by enacting a law within 365 days from the date the Central legislation becomes effective.

Narayanasamy said the government has also decided to propose modification of the clause which says members of the Lokpal should not be connected with any political party, to say "affiliated" with political party.

Significantly, the government will propose that the fifth member of the selection committee - who will be an eminent jurist - would be recommended by the other four members: the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha speaker, leader of the opposition and chief justice of India. The opposition has been demanding such consultation to ensure that the panel is not government-dominated.

Political parties will be exempt from the purview of the Lokpall Bill 2011. "They are already covered under the Representation of People's Act," Narayanasamy said. The government has decided against accepting the select committee's recommendation to drop the clause that provided for bringing bodies and institutions, including NGOs, receiving donations from the public under the purview of the Lokpal.

"Government has decided to exempt only such bodies or authorities established, constituted or appointed by or under any Central or state or provincial act providing for administration of public religious or charitable trusts or endowments or societies for religious or charitable purposes registered under the Societies Registration Act," an official statement said.

"Charitable institutions or schools which have got government land would be excluded from the purview of the Lokpal Bill. But those institutions which receive funds from the government will come under the purview," Narayanasamy said.

Among the other important recommendations of the select committee the government has accepted are setting up of a separate directorate of prosecution for the CBI under the overall control of the CBI director, the appointment of the director of prosecution to be made on the recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commission, and having a panel of lawyers appointed with the consent of the Lokpal to handle Lokpal-referred cases.

However, the recommendation that the approval of Lokpal was necessary to transfer CBI officers investigating cases referred by Lokpal was not accepted. Narayanasamy said such a provision would affect the smooth functioning and autonomy of the CBI. After getting a nod from the Upper House, the amended bill will go back to the Lok Sabha for fresh approval.

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