New Delhi, Dec 18: Amid the government's keenness to introduce Lokpal Bill in Parliament before the end of Winter session on December 22, the Union Cabinet tonight had informal discussions on the much-hyped legislation which is expected to be taken up by the Cabinet formally tomorrow.
The Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was briefed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the salient features of the Lokpal Bill, sources said.
Mukherjee told the meeting that the draft of the bill was being finalised, incorporating recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which examined the legislation and certain suggestions made at the all-party meeting convened by the Prime Minister on last Wednesday.
There was some discussion on it at the meeting and it was decided that another meeting would be called tomorrow, possibly in the evening, to consider it formally.
Some ministers, including Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi, are understood to have suggested that the government's “pro-poor image” should be kept in mind while drafting the Bill, amid questions as to whether corporate houses should be included.
After the Cabinet meeting, Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Law Minister Salman Khurshid and MoS in PMO V Narayanasamy stayed back to discuss the matter further with the Prime Minister, the sources said.
With the threat of Anna Hazare's hunger strike from December 27 looming large, the government is striving to table the Lokpal Bill in Parliament on December 20, three days before expiry of the Winter session.
Among the proposals considered were bringing the Prime Minister under the proposed anti-graft ombudsman with certain conditions like the requirement of cognisance by three-fourth of the Lokpal bench about any complaint.
The Bill is also expected to have the provision for Lokpal survising CBI on corruption cases referred by it.
There may also be a proposal for creation of an independent ‘Directorate of Prosecution', carving out from the CBI.
Accordingly, the Bill is likely to suggest that the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act be amended, sources said.
With regard to demand for inclusion of Group ‘C' employees, the sources said discussions are underway to create an “appropriate mechanism” for this.
One of the suggestions in this regard is placing them under the purview of the CVC who would be asked to report the progress on anti-corruption cases to Lokpal.
The bill is also expected to provide for removal of the Lokpal Chairman or member if a joint complaint is made by at least 100 MPs.
The legislation also is likely to provide for 50 per cent reservation to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs, minorities and women in the Lokpal bench on the lines of demand raised by almost all the parties, except BJP, at Wednesday's meeting, the sources said.
“You all know that how many days are left (for Parliament session). We have literally worked day and night to ensure that we meet the deadlines,” Law Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters today.
“Let us just get the Bill done and bring it to the Cabinet so that it can be brought before Parliament as quickly as possible,” he said amid the looming threat of Anna Hazare to go on hunger strike from December 27 if the legislation is not enacted by then.
Referring to the various proposals floating around, Khurshid said, “the Government is not taking up anything as outstanding view but finetuning keeping in mind the basic structure of the law... to ensure that we take public confidence with us because we are also determined and commited to a very powerful Lokpal Bill.”
The Parliamentary Committee had recommended reservation for SCs, STs, OBCs, minorities and women in the Search Committee which will assist the Selection Committee to select Lokpal. However, it was silent on reservation in the Lokpal.
If reservation is provided in the Lokpal panel, it will become the first Constitutional body to have the provision.
On the issue of PM, the Standing Committee had refused to take a position but recommended three options—inclusion without exception and qualifications, inclusion with no exclusionary caveats but after demitting office and inclusion with exclusions on issues like national security and foreign affairs and some others.
Making CBI, or its anti-corruption wing, a part of Lokpal still remains a contentious issue.
The Lokpal Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha in August this year says that “Lokpal shall constitute an Investigation Wing for the purpose of conducting investigationof any offence alleged to have been committed by a public servant punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.”
Several parties, however, are insisting that CBI's anti-corruption wing should be under Lokpal to give it teeth.
On the inclusion of group C employees under the amit of Lokpal, one of the options with the government is recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee which had recommended a “broad supervisory fusion at the apex level” by some changes in the CVC Act.