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Confrontation looms as Lokpal report is tabled

Friday December 09, 2011 09:11:49 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: The much-awaited report on Lokpal bill was tabled in parliament Friday, recommending constitutional status for the ombudsman but leaving undecided the issue of the prime minister's inclusion in its purview. Team Anna was quick to trash the report, signalling another showdown with the government.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too came out against the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which had been mandated to work out a draft legislation aimed at combating corruption at all layers of public life.

Ten of the committee's 30 members submitted dissent notes on various issues.

Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare blamed Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi for the "weak report", and called upon people to vote against the Congress in upcoming state elections. Hazare is to hold a day's rally at Delhi's Jantar Mantar Sunday.

"Rahul Gandhi is behind this weak report," Hazare said in his village Ralegan-Siddhi in Maharashtra. Noting that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh "seems to be serious about Lokpal", he said Gandhi "does not want corruption to end from this country".

"Such a toothless draft would be a waste," added Hazare, who has vowed to launch another hunger strike if an effective Lokpal legislation was not framed.

Team Anna's ire is over the exclusion of the mass of Group C and D government staff as well as the Central Bueaau of Investigation (CBI) from the Lokpal's ambit and the absence of Citizen's Charter.

Congress MP and Standing Committee chief Abhishek Manu Singhvi defended the report, saying "our job was not to please anyone or everyone. We hope this report does some good for the country".

The BJP said the report lacked "political reality".

"I have no hesitation in saying this report looks like a lawyer's draft devoid of political and administrative realties," said party veteran Arun Jaitley.

Communist Party of India's D. Raja argued that bringing all sections of government staff under the Lokpal may not be feasible but sought discussion on other versions of the bill proposed by the civil society.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid insisted that the government was committed to a strong Lokpal bill.

Singhvi said Group C staff had been placed under the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), a statutory body, while Group A and B had been put under Lokpal, a higher constitutional body.

He said the 286-page report dealt with 24 issues, and the panel, with representatives from 14 political parties, shared unanimity on 13 issues.

The maximum dissent was on exclusion of Group C staff from the Lokpal.

The controversial issue of bringing the prime minister within the ombudsman's purview was left for parliament to decide with three options: inclusion under Lokpal, non-inclusion, and deferred inclusion.

But Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, V. Narayansamy, told NDTV news channel that the cabinet would decide on the matter.

The panel also suggested keeping the conduct of MPs in the house out of the Lokpal.

The report has brought corporates, NGOs and media within the Lokpal's jurisdiction.

The judiciary too has been kept out on the plea that the issue be dealt with through the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill.

A separate grievance redressal bill has been suggested to address the demand of a Citizen's Charter.

"The institution of Lokpal must be given constitutional status," said Singhvi.

While the panel has said the whistleblower's bill be implemented concurrently with the Lokpal bill, it has suggested punitive measures to deal with false complaints.

It was Hazare's five-day fast in April and later 13-day hunger strike here in August that forced the government to speed up its efforts to frame a Lokpal legislation to battle corruption.







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