The Government re-worked on the official version and said that it had removed 'many faults'. As many as 70 amendments were made to that Bill and the draft that is now in the hands of the Government for presentation in parliament has found the approval of the Cabinet. Two sticking points, namely bringing the Prime Minister within the purview with safeguards and keeping CBI out of the reach of the ombudsman kept the Cabinet Committee engaged in two days of discussion.
Cabinet members were briefed about the salient features of the Bill by V Narayansamy, Minister of State in the PMO, while Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and Home Minister P Chidambaram, who were involved in giving final shape to the Bill, explained some key provisions.
A few members sought clarifications, but there were no objections to the Bill. The highlights of the bill are a) The Lokpal to be a nine-member body (b) Impeachment of a Lokpal to be initiated by at least 100 MPs, (c) There will be 50% reservation for SC, ST, OBCs etc, (d) Half the body will be from the judiciary (e) Lokpal selection panel to have PM, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the CJI or a Supreme Court judge nominated by him and an eminent govt-nominated jurist.
Despite the government's best efforts, it failed to buy peace with Team Anna which rejected the new draft even before the Cabinet had cleared it. Coming down heavily on the UPA Government, Anna declared plans to sit on a three-day fast from 27 December and a 'jail bharo' agitation Team Anna will follow this up by campaigning against the Congress in the poll-bound States of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab.
Team Anna is bristling as the government has turned down its demand to bring the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under the Lokpal's purview. According to the Bill, the Lokpal will not be armed with an investigative wing and will also not have administrative control over the CBI, which will remain with the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).
To provide for the impartial functioning of the agency, the Bill has laid down that the CBI director will be selected by a panel comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India or his nominee.
The Lokpal will not have powers to initiate a probe on its own, but will be able to supervise corruption cases referred by it to the CBI or the police while the premier investigative agency will report back to the Lokpal on these cases. At least three Lokpal members will process this report and decide whether to file a charge sheet, a closure report or order a departmental inquiry.
As a compromise, the ombudsman has been given powers to conduct a preliminary enquiry for which it will be provided with a special unit to be headed by a director of inquiry. It is learnt that the Lokpal will be an nine-member body and its members will be selected by a panel comprising the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court judge nominated by him and nominated jurist to be named by the President.
The Lokpal could either be a former Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court judge or an eminent person. The Bill also provides for 50% reservation for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs, minorities and women in the membership of the Lokpal and the search committee that will be set up to shortlist names for the anti-corruption body.
Following persistent demands from various political parties that the ombudsman must be made accountable, the revised Bill provides for the impeachment of the ombudsman on receipt of a representation by 100 MPs.
The Prime Minister has been brought under the ambit of the Lokpal, but with issues pertaining to national security, international relations, atomic energy and space have been kept out. Complaints against the PM can only probed if three-fourths of the Lokpal members endorse the decision. The proceedings will be conducted in camera.
The Government has partially agreed to Team Anna's demand to place all categories of employees under the Lokpal's scanner. However, cases against Group C employees will be referred to the Central Vigilance Commission for probe. The Government has already introduced a separate Citizens' Charter Bill though Team Anna wanted it under the Lokpal's purview but to appease the social activist, the ombudsman will be given appellate powers.