The government and the parliamentary panel examining the anti-graft Lokpal bill have locked horns on whether public servants facing corruption charges should be given a chance to explain their position before any probe is initiated against them.
The bill passed by the Lok Sabha in December last year provides for such an opportunity to be given, but the Rajya Sabha committee has warned that it will allow the corrupt "to manipulate the evidences."
The panel has also bluntly told the government that the Lokpal should be empowered "to take immediate action, which may include raid/seizure of incriminating documents immediately after it receives a complaint, without getting into technicalities of seeking comments of those against whom complaints have been received."
The government, however, has defended the provision. "It is felt that the comments of public servants and their competent authorities will help the Lokpal in taking a view whether any investigation is at all necessary," the department for personnel and training (DoPT) has stated in its note submitted to the panel.
After breakdown of talks with erstwhile Team Anna last year, the government had introduced this provision. It was strongly opposed by the civil society activists and the Oppositions, who had argued that the definition of public servant includes the PM, ministers, MPs and all central government employees, and such a "concession" to them would mean letting them know evidence against them.
"During the preliminary inquiry….on the basis of material, information and documents, the inquiry wing shall seek the comments from the public servant ...," states clause 20 of the Lokpal bill.
The panel, however, is not convinced. "The procedure for inquiry and investigation should be in consonance with principles of criminal jurisprudence….seeking comments of public servants would afford an opportunity to manipulate evidence," it wrote.
DoPT, while leaving final decision with the panel, has stuck to its guns and said allowing public servants to provide comments will help Lokpal in doing away with frivolous complaints.