Cabinet clears draft Lokpal bill; angry Team Anna protests (Second Lead)

July 28th, 2011 - 7:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Ambika Soni New Delhi, July 28 (IANS) The cabinet Thursday approved the draft of an anti-corruption Lokpal bill, to be introduced in the monsoon session of parliament, that does not include the prime minister, judiciary or the conduct of MPs inside the house in its purview and has left the civil society members deeply disappointed.

The draft bill excludes from its ambit the prime minister, the chief justice of India and members of parliament for their actions inside the house, informed sources said.

This led to immediate protest from Team Anna, which described it as a “sarkari” Lokpal.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said the Lokpal will have eight members, half of whom will be from the judiciary. The chairman will also belong to the judiciary.

Soni, who addressed the media along with Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanasamy, said qualifications have been laid down for the non-judicial members of the panel.

“Overall, the task has been to ensure greater accountability and transparency in public life,” she said, adding the government was also working for the whistleblowers’ protection bill, Central Vigilance Commission bill and the judicial accountability bill.

Narayanasamy said the prime minister has been kept out of the purview of the Lokpal bill, though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered to be included.

“The prime minister himself offered that he should be included in the Lokpal but after due deliberations, weighing all pros and cons, the cabinet decided that the prime minister should be excluded,” he said.

However, the prime minister can come under the purview of the bill after demitting office, he added.

Reacting strongly to the developments, social activist Anna Hazare accused the government of cheating him and the entire nation by clearing the draft Lokpal bill that excludes the clauses the civil society has been fighting for.

“We said that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should be brought under the ambit of the Lokpal bill. Also we discussed that all states should have Lokayukta (ombudsman). It was decided that all these things will be put forward while discussing the bill in the cabinet, but today we found that these were removed,” Hazare told reporters here.

“This is cheating — not just with Anna Hazare but with the entire nation. If states don’t have Lokayukta, then corruption will never end. So, we will sit on a fast in Jantar Mantar from Aug 16 on… I will fast until my last breath,” he added.

A 10-member committee, comprising five ministers and five civil rights leaders, was set up in April to draft the bill after Hazare went on a indefinite hunger strike demanding a strong Lokpal bill. But the two sides prepared separate versions following disagreements over key issues.

Activist Prashant Bhushan described the draft as a “sarkari” Lokpal. “It’s a cruel joke on the people of the country. If they think they can fool the people, then they are sadly mistaken. They played a cruel joke on people,” he told mediapersons.

An angry Kiran Bedi lambasted the government. “Government version is a jokepal.”

Khurshid said the government had accepted 34 of 40 provisions given by the civil society members during discussions in the joint drafting committee.

Asked about Hazare threatening to go on fast from Aug 16 in support of a stronger Lokpal bill, Khurshid said once the bill was introduced in parliament, it would become the property of the house.

“Anyone who challenges this procedure is not challenging government but parliament of the country,” he said.

He said the Lokpal would have its own investigation wing and sooner or later have its own staff.

The minister said the Lokpal can requisition officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation or state governments and will not need sanction for investigation and prosecution.

Khurshid said the bill provides for seven years’ limitation for a complaint to be made against a former prime minister.

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