New Delhi, Jul 28: The Union Cabinet today cleared the much-debated Lokpal Bill keeping the office of the Prime Minister outside its purview notwithstanding incumbent Manmohan Singh's insistence on subjecting himself to its scrutiny.
The Bill, to be introduced in Parliament in the first two days of the Monsoon Session beginning Monday, also keeps out the judiciary and the conduct of MPs in Parliament from its purview.
After discussions lasting 90 minutes, the Cabinet gave the nod for the Bill politely turning down Singh's suggestion that the office of the Prime Minister be included in the legislation on the ground that it would lead to uncertainty and political instability.
The decision on the Bill comes less than three months after civil society activists led by Anna Hazare started an agitation at Jantar Mantar demanding a legislation that would include PM, judiciary, conduct of MPs in Parliament besides others.
At the Cabinet meeting, besides ministers from Congress, representatives of the NCP and the Trinamool Congress favoured keeping the office of the Prime Minister outside the purview of the Lokpal.
UPA ally DMK had spoken for bringing the Prime Minister within the ambit of Lokpal but Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister M K Alagiri was not present at the meeting today.
After making Hazare withdraw his indefinite fast, the government constituted a Joint Drafting Committee in early April but the government and civil society activists failed to finalise a common draft.
Today, Hazare and his team were quick to dismiss the Bill cleared by the Cabinet as a “cruel joke” on the people.
Hazare also announced that he would go on a fast from August 16 to protest against the bill saying the government has betrayed the people.
Briefing reporters after the meeting, Law Minister Salman Khursheed said the Bill approved by the Cabinet had included 34 of the 40 suggestions made by Hazare's representatives, including provisions that empower the Lokpal to probe any Union Minister or officials of Group A and above without any sanction.
He said suggestions of Team Anna on autonomy of the Lokpal and its funding from the Consolidated Fund of India on the lines of the Supreme Court have also been accepted by the government.
The Lokpal consisting of Chairperson and eight members, half of them judicial, will have its own prosecution and investigation wing with officers and staff necessary to carry out its functions.
While the Chairperson would be a sitting or retired Chief Justice of India, the members would include former or sitting judges of Supreme Court or Chief Justices of the High Court, Khursheed said.
He said said the bill provides for seven years' limitation for a complaint to be made against a former prime minister.
“This limitation applies every person covered under the Lokpal. It is for the standing committee to see if the period needs to be increased or decreased,” he said.
The judiciary has not been included in the bill as its autonomy and independence should be maintained, Khursheed said adding a separate Judicial Accountability Bill has been introduced in Parliament.
The removal of the Lokpal will be the prerogative of the President. While the Lokpal will have separate teams to conduct inquiries and investigations, it will not have the power to prosecute someone accused of corruption.
Besides, it would also take up corruption matters allegedly involving Ministers, MPs, Group ‘A' officers and others equivalent to this grade in any body, Board, authority, corporation, trust, society or autonomous body set up by an Act of Parliament.
The Lokpal would not require sanction or approval under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 or Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, in cases where prosecution is proposed.
The Lokpal will also have powers to attach the property of corrupt public servants acquired through corrupt means.
Claiming credit for bringing in the much-debated legislation, Soni said the issue was part of the manifestos of the Congress party and the UPA-I government as was the Right to Information and the rural employment guarantee scheme.
On Hazare threatening to go on fast from August 16 in support of a stronger Lokpal bill, Khursheed said once the bill was introduced in Parliament, it would become the property of the House.
“Anyone, who challenges this procedure is not challenging government but Parliament of the country,” he said.
He also took a dig at civil society activists for having termed the government draft as “jokepal.”
“They are terming their own contribution as a joke. The discussions were constructive. We are ready to give them credit,” Khursheed said. PTI