Cabinet okays Lokpal bill amid flak, Hazare to fast (Roundup)

July 28th, 2011 - 9:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Ambika Soni New Delhi, July 28 (IANS) The cabinet Thursday approved the draft of an anti-corruption Lokpal bill excluding the prime minister from its ambit, fuelling opposition criticism. An upset Gandhian Anna Hazare pledged to make the government bend with an indefinite hunger strike from Aug 16.

“Overall, the task has been to ensure greater accountability and transparency in public life,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told the media, outlining the purpose behind the bill.

The draft bill, to be introduced in parliament’s monsoon session starting Monday, also excludes the judiciary but covers ministers and MPs. Minister of State V. Narayanasamy said the actions of MPs in the house would have to be decided by the presiding officer.

The announcement triggered a volley of protests.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), reeling under corruption charges that have enveloped its Karnataka government, said the prime minister should be covered by the Lokpal. This was echoed by Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

The most vociferous criticism came from Hazare, whose five-day fast in April triggered nationwide protests and forced the government to set up a 10-member team to draft a strong Lokpal bill.

The effort collapsed following major differences between the ministers in the team and civil society representatives led by Hazare.

On Thursday, Hazare accused the government of cheating while his associate and lawyer Prashant Bhushan dubbed the bill “a cruel joke on the people of the country”.

“If they (government) think they can fool the people, they are sadly mistaken. They have played a cruel joke on the people.”

Said Hazare: “This is cheating, not just with Anna Hazare but with the entire nation.”

He also found fault with the bill for not covering the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and for not setting up a Lokayukta (ombudsman) in each state.

The 72-year-old Gandhian, a former soldier and a crusader against corruption, said he would go on fast from Aug 16 at Jantar Mantar in the heart of the capital — the same protest venue as in April.

Narayanasamy, who is attached to the Prime Minister’s Office, said Manmohan Singh had offered to be included in the bill but the general view was against it.

But the prime minister can come under the purview of the bill after he leaves office, according to the provisions of the draft bill.

Minister Soni said the government was also working on a Whistleblowers’ Protection Bill, a Central Vigilance Commission bill and a Judicial Accountability Bill.

She said the Lokpal will have eight members, half from the judiciary. The chairman will be a judge.

Minister Salman Khurshid said the government had accepted 34 of 40 provisions given by civil society members.

Asked about Hazare’s threat to fast from Aug 16, he said once the bill was introduced in parliament, it would become the property of the house.

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

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

He the Lokpal can requisition officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation or state governments and would not need government sanction for investigation and prosecution.

The bill provides for seven years’ limitation for a complaint to be made against a former prime minister, he added.

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