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Cabinet clears Lokpal bill, silent on CBI

New Delhi, Jan. 31: The Lokpal Bill, intended to fight corruption at high posts in the government, was cleared by the cabinet today but the draft was silent on the contentious issue of the CBI chief’s appointment.

The bill will now be presented in the Rajya Sabha, where its older version had got stuck owing to stiff opposition.

Once cleared in the Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha will have to incorporate the new amendments before it becomes an act. The amendments could evoke lesser resistance as the bill has been examined by a Rajya Sabha select committee that had members from most parties.

The bill has been delinked from Lokayuktas in states, with the legislation giving them a year to pass laws to create their version of the ombudsman.

The Lokpal will have nine members, to be chosen by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, Chief Justice of India, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and an eminent jurist. The suggestion to choose the fifth member (jurist) on the recommendation of the first four members has been accepted.

But the CBI director’s appointment could still remain a bone of contention. The cabinet decision today does not refer to the process, though the Rajya Sabha committee had proposed a collegium consisting of the Prime Minister, the leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India.

But minister V. Narayansamy, briefing reporters on the cabinet meeting, said the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) Act would soon be amended to accept the demand related to the CBI chief.

The government accepted the suggestion made by the House committee to set up a separate directorate of prosecution in the CBI. The officer will be appointed on the recommendation of the CVC. The suggestion that the CBI pick a panel of advocates — other than government lawyers — with the consent of the Lokpal for handling cases referred by the Lokpal, has also been accepted.

The other CBI-related recommendation the government rejected was that the agency’s officers investigating cases referred by the Lokpal should be transferred only with the Lokpal’s consent.

The BJP alleged the Centre was “not serious” about giving the CBI autonomy.

“We had hoped that the government will respond to suggestions (from the Rajya Sabha committee) on making the CBI direct, independent and transparent and put more autonomy,” chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said. He also wondered why the government had not endorsed the panel’s suggestion on transfer of officers probing the Lokpal cases.