M A I N   N E W S

Govt forges consensus with allies on Lokpal
Hopes to bring around Opposition on the issue today
Anita Katyal and Faraz Ahmad/TNS

PM’s inclusion conditional

Govt agrees to conditional inclusion of the Prime Minister under the Lokpal
57 lakh Group C Central Govt employees also to be covered
Ruling coalition okay with greater autonomy to key investigating agency CBI.

New Delhi, December 13
The UPA government today managed to forge a broad consensus on major issues with its allies on a reworked Lokpal Bill following a marathon meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Emerging from the meeting late tonight, Home Minister P Chidambaram said they had arrived at a broad agreement on the contours of the Lokpal Bill. He said he was hopeful that tomorrow’s meeting with Opposition parties would be equally useful and productive.

The consultations with allies and Opposition parties have acquired urgency as the government wants the Bill to be passed before the winter session of Parliament concludes on December 22.
The parties discussed the (Parliamentary) Standing Committee report on Lokpal. There is a broad consensus in the UPA-II on the approach to the Lokpal. The parties also discussed the approach for the all-party meeting on Wednesday. They will express their views at the meeting.

— P Chidambaram, Home Minister

The UPA allies, it is learnt, are in agreement on the conditional inclusion of the Prime Minister and Group C employees within the Lokpal ambit but have reservations on bringing the CBI’s investigative wing and the citizen’s charter under the ombudsman’s purview.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is learnt to have telephoned Opposition leaders last night and the two sides appear to have narrowed down their differences.

Under pressure from the Opposition and Hazare, the government is learnt to have conceded to the demand for the conditional inclusion of the Prime Minister in the ambit of the Lokpal Bill. The allies are also in agreement. The BJP has suggested that except for issues relating to national security and foreign policy, the proposed ombudsman body should be allowed to investigate the Prime Minister for charges of corruption. It is suggested that these complaints be vetted through a stringent process so as to discourage frivolous charges that could hobble the Prime Minister and create instability.

The ruling coalition also agreed on bringing 57 lakh Group C Central Government employees under the Lokpal. The “Sense of the House” resolution adopted by Parliament in August had said that lower bureaucracy should be brought under the Lokpal through an appropriate mechanism which, in this case, could be the CVC at the Centre and the Lokayuktas in the states.

While the ruling coalition is also not averse to giving greater autonomy to the CBI, which will no longer have to get prior sanction from the Centre to investigate corruption cases against government employees, the allies had their reservations on that front. It is being proposed that the corruption cases be investigated by the CBI under the overall supervision of the Lokpal. The government is favourably inclined to the proposal that a collegium, comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition and the chairperson of the Lokpal, be set up for the appointment of the CBI Director.

Although the Union Cabinet today cleared the Citizen’s Redress Bill while Team Anna wanted it under the Lokpal, a compromise formula being suggested is that the right of appeal in case of complaints under the Citizens Charter be referred to the Lokpal. The allies, however, do not agree with this proposal.

Having been rebuffed recently by its allies on its decision to allow foreign investment in retail trade, the government decided to consult all its partners on the Lokpal Bill before bringing it before the Cabinet for final approval.

It will now follow up today’s deliberations with consultations with Opposition parties tomorrow. The exercise has become necessary as the UPA does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

With Opposition parties uniting with Anna Hazare on the key provisions of the Lokpal Bill, the government does not want to face any hurdles when the Bill is debated in Parliament next week.

The government cannot allow the Bill to collapse in Parliament as Anna Hazare has already threatened to go on a fourth indefinite fast from December 27, if the Bill is not passed in the winter session.





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