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Cabinet approves draft Lokpal bill, PM out of ambit

Thursday July 28, 2011 06:17:25 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: The cabinet Thursday approved the draft of an anti-corruption Lokpal bill - to be introduced in the monsoon session of parliament from Aug 1 - that does not include the prime minister, judiciary or the conduct of MPs inside the house.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said the Lokpal will have eight members, half of whom will be from the judiciary. The chairman will also belong to the judiciary.

Soni, who addressed the media along with Law Minister Salman Khursheed and Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office V. Narayanasamy, said qualifications have been laid down for the non-judicial members of the panel.

"Overall, the task has been to ensure greater accountability and transparency in public life," she said, adding the government was also working for the whistleblowers' protection bill, Chief Vigilance Commission bill and the judicial accountability bill.

Narayanasamy said the prime minister has been kept out of the purview of the bill.

"The prime minister himself offered that he should be included in the Lokpal but after due deliberations, weighing all pros and cons, the cabinet decided that the prime minister should be excluded," he said.

However, the prime minister can come under the purview of the bill after demitting the office, he added.

Khursheed said the bill provides for seven years' limitation for a complaint to be made against a former prime minister.

"This limitation applies to others too. It is for the standing committee to see if the period needs to be increased or decreased," he said.

The minister said the judiciary has not been included in the bill as its autonomy and independence should be maintained. He said a separate judicial accountability bill has been introduced in parliament and was being examined by a standing committee.

The minister said the government has stuck to its commitment on the Lokpal bill. "Hopefully, it will come in the first two days of the monsoon session," Khursheed said.

Khursheed said the government had accepted 34 of 40 principles given by the civil society members during discussions in the joint drafting committee.

The government had constituted the joint drafting committee for Lokpal bill which had five members from civil society led by social activist Anna Hazare. However, there were two different versions of the draft in June at the end of nearly two-month-long discussions.

Asked about Hazare threatening to go on fast from Aug 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.

Khurshid 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," he said.

He said the Lokpal would have its own investigation wing and sooner or later have its own staff.

The minister said the Lokpal can requisition officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation or state governments and will not need sanction for investigation and prosecution.








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