New Delhi, Jan. 29: The government appears to have accepted many crucial recommendations of the Rajya Sabha select committee on the Lokpal and Lokayuktas bill and even taken tentative steps towards ensuring the autonomy of the Central Bureau of Investigation.
But the appointment of the CBI director is set to remain a bone of contention as the committee’s unanimous suggestion to institute a collegium comprising the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Opposition leader and the Chief Justice of India has been rejected.
A “secret” note, which the ministry of personnel has prepared and will be placed before the Union cabinet the day after tomorrow, does not mention the mode of appointment of the CBI director.
Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, the leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, had written to Manmohan Singh a couple of months ago requesting him to withhold Ranjit Sinha’s appointment as CBI chief because the committee had suggested the collegium system. Jaitley was a member of the select panel.
The Prime Minister went ahead with the appointment.
Singh had written back to the BJP leaders asserting that “the question of keeping the new appointment in abeyance does not arise”.
He said the “insinuation” that the appointment was made to “pre-empt the procedure recommended” by the select committee was “wholly unwarranted and devoid” of any merit. “I also refute the suggestion that the appointments to this post in the past by the UPA government were motivated by collateral considerations,” he added.
If the cabinet approves the nodal ministry’s proposal, the government will retain the sole prerogative of selecting the CBI chief, an issue bound to trigger a political confrontation although wide-ranging amendments to the Lokpal bill suggested by the committee have been accepted.
The committee’s first suggestion regarding the CBI was to set up a separate directorate of prosecution. It has been accepted.
The committee suggested that the director of prosecution be appointed on the recommendation of the Central Vigilance Commission. This too has been conceded.
The suggestion that the CBI maintain a panel of advocates — other than the government advocates — with the consent of the Lokpal for handling cases referred by the proposed anti-graft ombudsman has also been accepted.
The only CBI-related recommendation the government has rejected is that officers investigating cases referred by the Lokpal be transferred only with the proposed body’s consent.
The cabinet note says transfer of investigating officers “only with the approval” of the Lokpal would “affect the smooth functioning” of the CBI and “cause a lot of administrative difficulties to the CBI director in running the premier investigating agency”.
The government has accepted the select committee’s suggestion to do away with part III of the bill — passed by the Lok Sabha — that deals with setting up Lokayuktas in states. It has also accepted the suggestion to replace this provision with a clause that provides for setting up Lokayuktas through enactment of a law by state legislatures within 365 days from the date of commencement of the Lokpal Act.
As suggested by the committee, the clause that disqualifies a person from becoming a member of the Lokpal for “being connected with any political party” has been changed to “being affiliated with any political party”. The suggestion to choose the fifth member of the selection committee for the Lokpal (a jurist) on the recommendation of the first four members has been accepted too.
The select committee had recommended exclusion of bodies and institutions receiving donations from the public from the purview of the Lokpal. This has been rejected.
The bill, in its present form, covers “all entities/institutions, receiving donations from (the) public above a certain minima to be specified by the central government by notification”. It also covers “all entities/institutions receiving donations from foreign sources in the terms and contexts of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) in excess of Rs 10 lakh per year”.
The government plans to move an official amendment to exempt public religious or charitable trusts or endowments — including mutts, temples, gurdwaras, wakfs, churches, synagogues, agiaries or other places of religious worship — or societies for religious purposes from the Lokpal’s purview. But other non-government bodies such as NGOs and political parties would remain within its purview.
The government is also at variance with the select committee on not giving public servants a chance of hearing before the institution of an investigation. It feels that the chance to explain during a preliminary probe would be a fair approach.
All these proposals have to be scrutinised by the cabinet before they become the government’s official position, to be incorporated in the bill which will be taken up in Parliament’s budget session.