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Battle against govt dilution of Lokpal is on
SEEMA MUSTAFA  New Delhi | 10th Apr 2011

A support rally for Anna Hazare in Nanded, Maharashtra on Friday. Photograph by Mohammad Maqsud Inamdar

here are striking differences between the Jan (People's) Lokpal Bill and the official Lokpal Bill that various governments at the Centre have successfully stalled for 42 years. The People's Bill, drafted by legal luminaries like Shanti Bhushan, insists on giving sweeping powers to the Lokpal, as opposed to the "diluted" government version, in which the authority functions within stringent limitations.

The Lokpal, in the government scheme of things, cannot initiate suo moto action in case of complaints from the public. The procedure, which the People's Bill refutes, is for the people to first file complaints before the Speaker and Chairperson of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively, for them to filter the complaints, and then forward the select few to the Lokpal. This, civil society members argue, allows government and political intervention right at the first stage.

In the government's version of the Bill, the Lokpal is at best an advisory body. It is empowered only to conduct an enquiry and then forward the results to the "competent authority", which will then decide whether the case merits action or not. In case of the Cabinet ministers, for instance, the competent authority is the Prime Minister. The People's Bill insists that the Lokpal should have prosecuting authority as well, and take decisions at its level.

The People also want the Lokpal to have police powers so that it can register FIRs, which it cannot in the current government version. This Bill is silent on who will file the chargesheet in the court, who will initiate the prosecution, and other such relevant details. The People's Bill also seeks to make it clear that the CBI and the Lokpal will function as one unit when it comes to investigating a case, so that there are no conflicting reports. The People's Bill also seeks to enhance the punishment from a minimum of six months to seven years, and a maximum of seven years in the government bill to life imprisonment. Of course activists point out that the smaller details are negotiable, but there can be no give in increasing the powers of the Lokpal insofar as its independence and autonomy as an institution is concerned.

Sources said that in the drafting of a final consensus Bill, civil society representatives will insist that the Lokpal be given the powers to conduct impartial and independent enquiries, to prosecute and to have far more powers than the "weak" government Bill envisaged.

Interestingly, successive governments over four decades have conspired to stall the Bill: it was rejected by the Rajya Sabha, although it was passed by the Lok Sabha in 1969. Since then it has been introduced in Parliament in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2008, but never cleared.

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