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The right step forward

The Cabinet has cleared the amended version of the Lokpal Bill. The Centre would do well to pass it in the budget session.

india Updated: Jan 31, 2013 21:23 IST

It would seem that all the political and social manthan that we saw at Jantar Mantar and inside Parliament will not go in vain after all.

The amended version of the Lokpal Bill cleared by the Cabinet on Thursday will not be to the liking of many but it is testimony that the UPA has not forgotten its commitment to bring in an anti-graft law at a time when anger against corruption is at its peak.

The bill is a much-reworked version of the original one that was passed in Lok Sabha but got stuck in Rajya Sabha in 2011.

The bill, which will be presented before Rajya Sabha in February, seeks to allow the states to create their own lokayuktas as suggested by a Rajya Sabha panel.

The earlier bill had sought to create both the lokpal and lokayukta through a single law. Many stakeholders perceive this as an encroachment by the Centre on the rights of the states. Raising the accountability bar a notch higher, it will have states set up lokayuktas within one year of the enactment of the lokpal.

However, the government is clear that it will maintain the status quo on the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and rejected the view that the power to transfer CBI officials should rest with the lokpal and not the investigating agency.

This undermines the aim of bringing autonomy to the CBI that has been a continual bone of contention among political parties.

Exempting political parties and bringing NGOs that use government funding under the ambit of the anti-corruption watchdog may further weaken the government’s case for transparency.

There will be objections from some sections of civil society to the passage of the bill. And the Opposition BJP will seek to make out a case that the government is not serious about tackling corruption. And of course, it will not let up on the issue of the CBI not being brought under the lokpal.

But it can only be hoped that this does not stall Parliament as has happened in the past. The followers of Anna Hazare are planning a nationwide movement.

Though it is unclear whether they will get the same traction they did in the past, the government would do well to pass this bill in the next session and act on it.