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HindustanTimes Tue,21 Oct 2014

Lokpal bill good enough to begin with

Kiran Bedi   December 12, 2013
First Published: 20:14 IST(12/12/2013) | Last Updated: 10:52 IST(13/12/2013)

Why is Anna Hazare on a fast for the lokpal bill yet again, this time in his own village at Ralegaon Siddhi, near Pune (Maharashtra)? Where is the lokpal bill for which the country has been agitating since the past three years? This is even after Parliament passed a unanimous resolution on August 28, 2011, and the Prime Minister sent a signed letter to Anna, conveying the sentiment and a written commitment that a strong lokpal bill shall be passed!

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Why then has the bill not been passed yet? What is threatening in the bill that it has been held back, when many bills have been rammed through Parliament?

What if it was in place even in the past year? What difference could it have made? What has been going on in matters of serious corruption cases? Why was India's premier investigating agency called a 'caged parrot' by the Supreme Court of India?

Back on agenda

Today, the lokpal bill is back on the agenda of Parliament. What does it hold for us now? Can we begin with it and then improve it as we go along? I believe we can this time. Here are the key elements:

* The CBI's director appointment: This was earlier totally a government appointment. In the new bill, being tabled in the Rajya Sabha, and as cleared by the government on the recommendations of the selection committee, it's to be a collegium comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India. (People wanted this and got it)
* The selection committee for lokpal members, as recommended, would comprise the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, Leader of the Opposition, Lok Sabha speaker and an eminent jurist to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the selection committee.
* The lokpal would have eight members: four from the judiciary and the others with expertise of law, investigation, finance, vigilance, anti-corruption etc. Also, with due representation from Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and women.

Overseeing CBI

* The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will be overseen by the lokpal in relation to cases referred by the lokpal. In all matters referred by the lokpal to the CBI, the latter will be directly reporting to the lokpal only. Hence, it stands insulated from any form of external political interference. (no more law ministers' interference of the kind witnessed earlier).
* CBI officers investigating lokpal cases will be transferred by the government with the prior approval of lokpal (A unanimous recommendation of the committee but NOT accepted by the government. This is open to amendments in the Rajya Sabha). However, once the lokpal starts functioning with eight eminent persons, it will not be easy for the government to take arbitrary decisions without justified reasons.
* CBI will also be free to appoint its own team of lawyers with the lokpal's consent. Currently, it's a very bureaucratic route.
* CBI shall have directorate of prosecution under a director who shall be under the CBI director. (This, too, is a major improvement. Law officers come from the law ministry)
* The government shall provide all such expenditure, which in the opinion of the CBI director is necessary to conduct a fair investigation. The CBI director will be responsible for all expenditure sanctioned and spent on the conduct of such investigations. (It cuts out all existing red tape, and makes the CBI director the head of his own organisation, which he has been seeking for a long time)

Inquiry wing

* There shall be an inquiry and an investigative wing too, which enables the lokpal on receipt of a complaint to decide whether to get the complaint inquired into, or order an investigation by any investigation agency, even besides the CBI!
* The government, however, has proposed that prior to this, the government official be given a hearing. This matter, too, is open for amendments in Parliament. Several people want this hearing as a discretion and not mandatory.
* Another important change is the issue of sanction from the government before proceeding with the complaint concerning a government servant (not needed now). It has been agreed and accepted by the government that while considering the investigation report, the three-member lokpal bench shall obtain comments of the competent authority and the public servant concerned.
* The Prime Minister is included with certain exceptions such as public order, space, defence matters etc. but not the Prime Minister's office!
* The lokpal can be removed by the President after a Supreme Court inquiry on a reference from the President on a petition signed by at least 100 MPs.
* In case of a false or frivolous complaint, those made in good faith should not be penalised.
* The lokpal Act to be a model Act for all the states to pass lokayukts within a year. Many states till now do not have one.

We may begin with this lokpal. Improve it as we go along. It will provide for an independent anti-corruption system and open the cage of the 'caged parrot' (CBI) for larger prosperity of our country.

The Lokpal bill is being tabled today in the Rajya Sabha and we wait to see what is finally done on Monday!

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