After many false starts, the government is finally close to sewing up an acceptable lokpal bill draft.
It had to concede ground, with some caveats, on the inclusion of the prime minister under lokpal; it stubbornly resisted pressure to cede control over CBI; and it offered the carrot of caste-based reservations on the panel to win the support of a wavering opposition.
The draft bill — which will be taken up by the cabinet on Monday and tabled in Parliament a day later — says scheduled caste, scheduled tribe and other backward caste members must make up at least half the proposed nine-member panel. It also proposes adequate representation for women and minorities on the lokpal panel.
The Centre conceded ground on including the prime minister under the lokpal, but this concession comes with numerous safeguards (see graphic).The government, according to the draft bill, will retain administrative control over the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), though the agency will get greater autonomy while selecting its personnel. The draft bill adds that the lokpal will get to supervise graft cases it refers to the investigating agency.
Following this, minister of state for personnel V Narayanasamy requested anti-graft campaigner Anna Hazare not to go on his planned fast from December 27. "I appeal to him to wait for the Parliament to pass the bill," he said.
This is the first time that a bill to set up a new constitutional body provides for reservation in its top echelons. There is no such provision in other constitutional bodies like the Election Commission and Comptroller & Auditor General. Even relatively new organisations such as the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Information Commission have no provisions for reservations in their apex bodies.
Social activist Anna Hazare's team was initially opposed to reservations within the lokpal, but modified its stand reportedly because it did not want to give the government a handle with which to delay the bill.
The demand for reservations in the lokpal, first raised by the Lok Jan Shakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan during the meetings of the parliamentary panel that examined the lokpal bill, found widespread support at the all-party meeting on Wednesday.
Paswan had interrupted BJP leader Sushma Swaraj's speech to raise the reservation issue, and virtually every leader who spoke at the meeting supported the demand.