Thursday, July 28, 2011

Govt's Lokpal bill a modified Hazare version

Further amendments possible at the standing committee stage in parliament

New Delhi: The Union cabinet's approval on Thursday of the Lokpal bill finalised by the ministry of law and justice may not be too different, at least in details, from that prepared in the Joint Drafting Committee which comprised five senior ministers and the Anna Hazare team.

Though actual provisions of the bill would be made public only on its introduction in the monsoon session of parliament beginning Monday (August 1), the indications are the deliberations through late April to late June of the JDC will not be trashed completely. There were two versions – one from the ministers' and another from civil society members' side.

A perusal of the two versions which are on the website of the Ministry of Personnel, Training and Pension would show that the ministers' had agreed to most of the suggestions made by Hazare and his associated. There will thus be a multi-member Lokpal, comprising a chairperson and nine others, and there will be benches of the Lokpal among the work will be distributed. On every bench, there will be a member with a judicial background.

The JDC version prepared by the ministers has in principle agreed to the Hazare team's suggestion that the selection commitee should be broadbased, and that this selection committee could then set up a search commitee in shortlisting the candidates to fill up the Lokpal.

The points on which they differed were on the inclusion/exclusion of the prime minister and the higher judiciary from the Lokpal's ambit. During the JDC meetings, the ministers had argued that as the Judiciary Accountability Bill was already before a parliamentary standing committee, it would not be proper to include the judges of high courts and the Supreme Court in the Lokpal bill.

The most interesting part is that the government seems to have completely abandoned its 2010 version of the bill which was a much simpler affair in terms of structure and work. In this version of the bill, the Lokpal comprised three members, and the prime minister was in the ombudsman's ambit excepting the decisions he takes in connection with foreign policy, national security. It is only in the JDC meetings, that the government took a firm stand against including the prime minister in the bill.

This may leave the civil society members dissatisfied, but the government could reaosnable be argued that there was a fair amount of accomodation of the ideas of the Hazare team in the final text of the bill.

This final text may not remain intact by the time parliament passes the bill as there is a distinct possibiliti of amendments at the standing committee stage. The government could accept the changes from other parties to give it a broadbased consultation and support.

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