M A I N   N E W S

Panel to draft Lokpal Bill off to a civil start
Revised Bill of activists seeks telephone tapping power too
Vibha Sharma/TNS

New Delhi, April 16
At the first meeting of the joint committee on the Lokpal Bill today, audio recorded and not videographed as demanded earlier, civil society representatives submitted an amended draft of the Bill with a fresh provision giving the Lokpal additional powers to tap telephones and internet monitoring.

Section 13 C of the draft seeks for the Lokpal power under the Indian Telegraph Act to “approve interception and monitoring of messages or data or voice transmitted through telephones, internet or any other medium covered”.

In the latest version of the draft Bill, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition (LOP) in the Lok Sabha have replaced the Rajya Sabha Chairman and the Lok Sabha Speaker as members of the committee empowered to choose the Lokpal.

In the activists’ draft Bill, the selection committee will now also include two youngest judges of the Supreme Court, two youngest Chief Justices of the High Court, the Comptroller & Auditor General of India and the Chief Election Commissioner.

The earlier version had the Vice President, the Lok Sabha Speaker, two senior-most SC judges, two senior-most chief justices of high court, retired army personnel who are five star generals, NHRC Chairperson, CAG and CEC as members of the selection committee

The government appeared to find the newer version “more reasonable and practical” than the earlier draft and “better” because it included better provisions on safeguard mechanisms.

On their part, civil society members appeared amenable to look at further amendments. While activists had earlier said their draft should be the basis for the proposed Lokpal Bill, committee member Prashant Bhushan today said they were ready to look at other suggestions which would come their way.

“We have been working on the Jan Lokpal Bill since the past few days. A number of valuable suggestions had come to us, especially during the NAC sub-committee and the NCPRI meeting on March 3 and April 4, which have now been incorporated in the latest version,” he said.

Today’s 90-minute meeting, committee members said, was cordial and extremely positive. Both sides presented their perspective on the proposed legislation and nothing contentious cropped up at the meeting chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

“It went off well,” Anna Hazare said while Congress leader Kapil Sibal termed the meeting a historic event.

However, this is just the beginning. Neither side is ruling out the possibility of differences cropping up once the committee gets down to real business. Sources said all the drafts received from other NGOs, experts and the draft cleared by the Parliamentary Standing Committee will be circulated when the panel begins discussions on the various provisions of the proposed legislation. The next meeting has been scheduled for May 2.

Despite the buzz over a controversial CD purportedly containing a conversation between the panel’s co-chairman Shanti Bhushan and Samajwadi Party leaders regarding the judiciary, the issue did not come up at the meeting.





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