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Over a month after the enactment of the Lokpal Act 2013, touted as a centrepiece anti-corruption legislation, it has already run into rough weather.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has raised questions about the ombudsman's mandated powers and functioning. However, for now the CBI's concerns have been dismissed.
In his letter to department of training and personnel (DoPT) last month, CBI's director Ranjit Sinha wrote of certain "legal inconsistencies and anomalies" that may emerge as a result of the Lokpal Act and the amendments made in the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) Act and the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, according to an agency source.
Sinha had, in particular, expressed concerns about the Lokpal Act's provision that mandated that the CBI must show its investigation reports to the CVC before filing them in a competent court. The CVC exercises administrative superintendence over the CBI in its anti-corruption probe. Such a provision runs contrary to the basic tenets of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), according the source. Under section 173 of the CrPC 1973, the investigating officer, after concluding its probe in a given matter, files the final report before the competent magistrate only, said the official.
The CBI director's letter also pointed out that according to section 44 of the Lokpal Act it was mandatory for public servants of all categories to file asset and liability assessments of self, spouse and dependent children in contravention of central laws.
"This provision goes against the proposed amendments in the Prevention of Corruption Act," read his letter. Under the proposed section, income from all lawful sources whether reported or not will be considered in a situation where a case of disproportionate assets is to be made out, the letter pointed out.
The agency has other concerns too that may impact its effectiveness and future relationship with the institution.
Sinha told HT that "a major issue is that the CBI, like always, is handling many important probes and it is expected that it will be given more cases by the Lokpal when it gets fully functional. But, the reality is that we have a crunch of manpower, especially investigators. Therefore we have requested the government to augment our human resources accordingly."
He added, "Besides, rules have to be formulated that forge a professional, harmonious relationship between the CBI and the Lokpal."
In a setback to the agency, however, the government recently refused to tweak provisions of the Lokpal Act. DoPT's secretary SK Sarkar wrote to Sinha, saying, "The majority of the issues raised relate to matters on which there have been extensive deliberations in the Parliament and also repeated consultations with stakeholders (including the CBI) by the select committee of the Rajya Sabha."
"It may not be advisable to tinker with the relevant statutory formulations at this stage when the institution of Lokpal is yet to become fully functional. It is only after the institution of becomes fully functional and…experiences difficulties in respect of specific issues (which may include issues raised by the CBI), that the government may be in a position to consider issuance of necessary orders, not inconsistent with the provisions of the Act," wrote Sarkar.
However, Sinha, who has been striving for CBI's empowerment and autonomy since taking charge in November 2012, is still hopeful. "When the Lokpal gets functional, the institution would be involved in the deliberations to fine-tune the act," he added.