UPA seeks to mollify allies, rivals on Lokpal Bill

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SummaryAhead of Parliament's winter session where it hopes to push a slew of reform bills with support from its allies and the Opposition, the UPA government seems inclined to accommodate their views on several counts.

Ahead of Parliament's winter session where it hopes to push a slew of reform bills with support from its allies and the Opposition, the UPA government seems inclined to accommodate their views on several counts. One such concession will be in giving states freedom to set up state-level anti-corruption ombudsmen under their own laws, rather than under a federal law as proposed earlier. The government has also accepted the Opposition demand that the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) be appointed by a collegium of the larger political spectrum, rather than just the ruling party.

These changes in one of the most contentious of the legislative initiatives of the UPA government — the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 — are expected to help reduce differences among the ruling alliance's core constituents, supporters from outside and the Opposition over the way forward on governance and economic reforms.

Sources said the Rajya Sabha select committee on the Lokpal Bill where the UPA has a majority has also agreed to the proposal that CBI personnel won't be changed in the course of a Lokpal-ordered probe. This is expected to ensure independence of the officials.

The Parliamentary committee has recommended delinking creation of state-level Lokayuktas from the Lokpal Bill, a provision strongly opposed by political parties including those supporting the UPA. The committee has, however, said states must set up their own ombudsman by enacting laws within a year of commencement of this law.

The Opposition and UPA allies had flayed the original provision that the state-level anti-corruption ombudsmen should be appointed under the proposed central law, calling it a dilution of the federal structure.

The Bill was referred to the committee in May for a detailed examination as parties could not resolve their differences.

The select committee, which adopted its draft report on Monday, is learnt to have not recommended any changes in the provision relating to “reservation”.

The original provision said 'not less than 50% of the members of Lokpal would be from SC, ST, OBC, minorities and women. The Committee's report said that “these provisions merely aim at providing representation to the diverse sections of the society in the institution of Lokpal...” and only indicates “the quantum of representation and not reservation.”

The Prime Minister, who is sought to be covered by the proposed law, is, however, exempt from the ambit of Lokpal on issues of external and internal security, atomic energy, international relations and public order.

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