The proposed anti-corruption ombudsman, Lokpal, will be empowered to initiate a probe on its own into the graft allegations against ministers, MPs and senior bureaucrats.
The government is agreeable to the proposal put forward by anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare’s team that the Lokpal “will not need to seek permission from any other agency for initiating investigation into corruption allegations against public servants”, HT has learnt.
The issue came up for discussion during the third meeting of the 10-member joint drafting panel, headed by the finance minister Pranab Mukherjee along with veteran jurist Shanti Bhushan, on Saturday.
“There was unanimity on empowering the Lokpal to initiate suo motu (on its own) investigations into the complaints of corruption that would be received against public servants,” said a panel member.
Though both drafts – government and civil society – include the Prime Minister within the ambit of the Lokpal, discussions on the sensitive issue remained inconclusive.
Currently the sanction to prosecute a minister can only be given by the Prime Minister, and for MPs by either Lok Sabha Speaker or Rajya Sabha Chairman.
“It has been agreed to draw up a list of existing laws that will require amendments to allow the Lokpal to take cognizance of the complaints and begin its investigations,” said a top government official, who attended the meeting.
A civil society member of the panel said the definition of “public servants” has been drawn from the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, which covers ministers, MPs and bureaucrats.
The government’s latest stand has “pleasantly surprised” civil society activists, since the Group of Ministers (GoM) to tackle corruption set-up in January, had decided against removing the legal provision which makes it mandatory for the CBI to seek government permission before investigating corruption cases involving joint-secretary level officers and above.
The draft provides for a full seven-member Lokpal bench to decide on complaints against judges, which would be placed before them only after being screened by a Lokpal member.
The Prevention of Corruption Act, the CrPC, and Delhi Special Police Establishment Act may have to be amended to empower the Lokpal.
The govt draft and civil society draft both want PM to be under Lokpal’s purview, but there is no unanimity yet.
Govt wants PM’s actions in defence, external affairs and national sovereignty to be exempt, Hazare’s team wants PM to be completely covered.
Govt is yet to take a stand; the activists have extended an olive branch saying all judiciary-related matters will be referred to a 7-member Lokpal bench first.