New Delhi: The new draft of Lokpal Bill cleared by the Cabinet on Thursday saw mixed reactions with those who led demonstrations for a strong Lokpal speaking in different languages. While former IPS officer Kiran Bedi came out in support of the new draft, Aam Aadmi Party member Prashant Bhushan said the core of the legislation was still weak. Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal also continued to oppose the new draft.
Kiran Bedi on Friday said that most of the concerns were addressed in the new draft of the Lokpal Bill and that these were baby steps that offered scope for improvement. "The selection of the director of CBI is considerably corrected. Now it is a selection by a 3-member committee. It has a fixed tenure of 2 years. Any case of corruption referred to CBI will not be under the government or politicians and that is good," Kiran Bedi said.
She also tweeted, "If Select Committee Recommendations on Lokpal r cleared by Cabinet then its a beginning made Its an improvement over earlier Standing Comm (sic)."
However, Prashant Bhushan said the new draft was still weak. "There have been minor changes made in the draft. The core of the legislation is still weak. The ruling class and the opposition ensuring a weak bill," Bhushan said.
"There is still no accountability of public servants and the government has also ensured an ineffective CBI," Bhushan added. This came as the government rejected the recommendation which sought approval of Lokpal for transfer of officers of CBI investigating cases referred by Lokpal.
Meanwhile, Anna Hazare called the new draft of the Lokpal Bill a farce. "I have written a letter to Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister asking whether CBI and CVC will be under the Lokpal. If they're not, how will we check corruption," Anna questioned.
Kejriwal also raised objections saying, "It will not have the power to investigate. It will forward the complaints to CBI and CBI continues to remain under the government's control. If Lokpal finds that an officer in CBI is not doing the right job, would the Lokpal have the power to change that officer," he questioned.
The Bharatiya Janata Party also said that it was not happy with the amended Lokpal Bill. The main Opposition party said that it was expecting that the government would make the Central Bureau of Investigation an autonomous, independent body and making the CBI director's post more autonomous but to its disappointment none of their recommendations were considered.
Addressing a press conference in the national capital, party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said that it seemed that the government was not serious on giving autonomy to the CBI. He added that no amendment could be made by the government and it was only the Rajya Sabha which could make changes to a bill.
Prasad also insisted that the appointment of the Lokpal should be transparent and out of the government's control. He said that the provision that gives a government officer a warning before an investigation starts against him is inappropriate.
Cabinet clears revised Lokpal Bill
The Union Cabinet on Thursday cleared a revised draft of the Lokpal Bill, allowing states to appoint Lokayuktas, but the contentious issue of the independence of the CBI remained unresolved. The amendments for strengthening the CBI have been accepted, except the one which sought approval of Lokpal for transfer of officers of CBI investigating cases referred by Lokpal. The bill will have the provision of appointment of CBI Director by a three-member collegium comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.
A public servant facing an inquiry by the Lokpal will be given an opportunity to be heard at the stage of the preliminary inquiry. The amended draft also leaves the appointment of Lokayuktas to the states.
"States have to pass Lokayukta Bill within 365 days of passing by Parliament," said Minister of State in the PMO V Narayanasamy in a press briefing. The revised bill incorporates a number of changes recommended by the Rajya Sabha Select Committee, including appointment of the Director of Prosecution by the CVC.
"A total 16 amendments were proposed by Standing Committee of Rajya Sabha. Out of those, 14 have been accepted," Narayanasamy said. Prime Minister, leader of Opposition and Chief Justice of India are in the Standing Committee.
The new bill also has a extra protection for public servants, giving them the right to present their view to the Lokpal. The government, however, has not accepted a key recommendation of the panel that an official facing an inquiry by the Lokpal should not be given an opportunity to be heard at the stage of the preliminary inquiry.
The Select Committee, to which the controversial bill was referred in view of sharp differences between political parties, has recommended delinking of the creation of Lokayuktas from the Lokpal Bill.
"Public servants will be given a chance to explain before an inquiry and people affiliated with political parties will not be on the Lokpal panel," said Narayanasamy. He added Central Bureau of Investigation will partially be under supervision of Lokpal, while government aided NGOs, education institutions, and temples will be out of Lokpal purview.