A parliamentary panel set up to iron out sharp political divisions over the shaping of the Lokpal Bill, today adopted a draft report, indicating that most of the contentious issues may have now been sorted out.
The draft report of the Rajya Sabha select committee makes recommendations on two major sticking points - the role of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and federal rights of states in the creation of Lokayuktas for them. It also suggests that the Prime Minister should be under the purview of the Lokpal, except when there are allegations on his actions on issues of national security, foreign relations and space and atomic energy.
Sources say the government is keen to bring the Bill in the Rajya Sabha in the Winter Session that begins on Thursday and, if parties allow Parliament to function, a Lokpal or national ombudsman, could be a reality by this year end.
The Bill was referred to the select committee, which has on it members from across parties, in May this year, after parties failed to agree on the key provisions. It was passed by the Lok Sabha in an extended Winter Session in December last year and the government had set aside just one day - the last day of the Session - for the Rajya Sabha to debate the high-profile bill. There was chaos in the House leading to delays that meant the bill could not be put to a vote before the Winter Session expired. In an acrimonious end to the session, the government was accused of ducking vote because it knew it would lose.
Among the committee's important recommendations is that the creation of Lokayuktas be delinked from the Lokpal Bill, with only a broad "direction" that state governments will have to set up their own corruption watchdogs by enacting laws within one year of the Lokpal being appointed at the Centre. This will ensure that the Lokpal is not enforced upon states.
This will be a major concession to the BJP and regional players that rule states both in the Opposition and within the UPA, which had objected to a provision in the Lokpal draft Bill that provided for the appointment of a Lokayukta in every state under the central law as an attack on the federal structure. These parties wanted the states free to enact their own law.
On the other big sticking point, the CBI's role, the committee has suggested that matters referred to the investigation agency by the Lokpal be supervised by the Lokpal. It has also sought to address differences on how much autonomy the CBI should have once the Lokpal's office comes into being - it has suggested that the CBI's director be selected by a collegium comprising the PM, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Parties like the BJP have wanted the chief of the CBI to be picked by a committee, instead of by just the government, to ensure, they have argued, the autonomy of the CBI.
The select committee has also suggested a fixed term for the CBI Director and the appointment of a separate Director of Prosecution. It also provides that CBI officers probing cases referred by the Lokpal should not be transferred and that release of funds for CBI investigations be made mandatory.
Some differences remain. Like over reservation in the eight member Lokpal - the government's bill that the Lok Sabha passed last December, had provided that "not less than 50 per cent of the members of the Lokpal would be from SC, ST, OBC, minorities and women. The BJP is against a quota and has reportedly submitted a note on this.
The Left parties want the inclusion of the private sector under the purview of the Bill.
The draft report suggests that Non-Government Organisations or NGOs that are government funded or receive foreign funds could be covered by the Lokpal.
The urgent need for a Lokpal Bill was championed heavily last year by activist Anna Hazare and his aides. After an attempt at co-writing the Bill with ministers failed, Team Anna prepped its own version of the Bill called the Jan Lokpal Bill. Anna, whose team has since split, has said he will launch a nationwide stir again if the Lokpal Bill is not passed in this Winter Session.