Sunday, December 25, 2011

UPA government's new Lokpal Bill: Some Highlights

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A new Lokpal Bill is set to be introduced in the Lok Sabha on Thursday. Here are some changes made from the previous draft
The government has dropped the term 'minorities' from new Lokpal Bill with regard to 50 per cent quota in the Lokpal bench and the Search Committee while opting against splitting CBI's prosecution and investigation wings. 
In the revised 64-page Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, it is proposed that 50 per cent of members of Lokpal and Lokayuktas shall be from anong SC, ST, OBC and women but skipped any mention of minorities.
Similar reservation is being provided in the Search Committee of the Lokpal.

In the Bill circulated on Thursday to MPs, it has been proposed that the CBI director will be selected by a three-member committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India or a Supreme Court Judge nominated by him.
The changes in the appointment process will be made by amending the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946, according to the Bill which has kept CBI out of the Lokpal's full control.
However, Lokpal will have provision for superintendence over CBI in corruption cases referred by it to the investigation agency.

The Lokpal brings Prime Minister under its purview with certain safeguards like excluding issues relating to international relations, external and internal security, public order, atomic energy and space.

The Chairperson and members of the Lokpal will be selected by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India and an eminent jurist nominated by the President of India.

In the case of Lokayuktas, the selection committee will have the Chief Minister, Speaker of assembly, Leader of Opposition, Chief Justice or Judge of the High Court and an eminent jurist nominated by the Governor. 

The Bill seeks to establish a more effective mechanism to receive complaints relating to allegations of corruption against public servants including ministers, MPs, Chief Ministers, members of legislative assemblies and to inquire into them and take follow up action.

The Lokpal and the Lokayuktas will have a constitutional status for which government has come up with a separate constitutional (116th amendment) bill.

Both the Lokpal and Lokayuktas will consist of a chairperson and a maximum of eight members, of which 50 per cent will be judicial members.

It has been made clear in the Bill that no prior sanction will be required for launching prosecution in cases inquired by Lokpal and Lokayuktas or initiated on the direction and with their approval.

Similarly, no prior approval is required for conducting investigation by CBI in cases entrusted by Lokpal.

Inclusion of all categories of employees has been made under Lokpal and Lokayuktas which will receive complaints against Group A, B, C and D government employees.

While in respect of Group A and B officers, complaints referred by the Lokpal to the CVC will be sent back to the ombudsman after the preliminary inquiry, in respect of Group C and D employees, the CVC will take action on its own. 

The Bill provides for setting up an Inquiry Wing of Lokpal and Lokayuktas for conducting the preliminary inquiry and also an independent Prosecution Wing for the ombudsman.
A three-member bench will consider the inquiry report and may decide to recommend investigation, initiate disciplinary proceedings or close the case.
In the case of complaints against the Prime Minister, the bill has said that any decision of the Lokpal to initiate preliminary inquiry or investigation against him shall be taken only by the Full Bench of the Lokpal with a majority of three-fourth and that such procedings be held in camera (secret).
Special courts will be constituted by the Centre as recommended by the Lokpal to decide corruption cases. 

The Bill brings under the jurisdiction of Lokpal and Lokayuktas entities or institutions receiving donations from foreign source in excess of Rs 10 lakh per year.

The Lokpal Bill also provides for confiscation of assets, proceeds and benefits procured by means of corruption by special courts under special circumstances.

If the special court has reason to believe on the basis of prima facie evidence that assets of a public servant have arisen out of corruption, it may authorise the confiscation till his acquittal.

If the confiscation order is annulled by the high court or if the public servant is acquitted, the assets will be returned. If it is not possible to return the assets, then he or she will be paid the price for the same with interest at the rate of five per cent per annum.

The Lokpal will also have powers to recommend transfer or suspension of a public servant if his presence on the post could adversely affect the preliminary inquiry.

On the issue of quota for minorities in Lokpal, sources said the term was deleted after it was pointed out that there is no provision of reservation for minorities in the Constitution and such a provision in the Bill would create complications.

Legal experts informed the government that reservation for minorities in Lokpal bench and Search Committee would require a constitutional amendment which the government felt would be difficult at this juncture.

According to the Cabinet note circulated on the Bill on Wednesday, the government has proposed 50 per cent reservation for SC/ST, OBCs, Minorities and Women in the Lokpal bench and in the Search Committee. This is a departure from the original bill which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in August.

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