M A I N   N E W S

Govt rushes to meet Lokpal deadline
Cong MPs told to ensure their presence from Monday to Thursday
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, December 15
The UPA government is working overtime to introduce the the Lokpal Bill in the Lok Sabha next Tuesday so that it can be passed in the ongoing session of Parliament due to conclude on December 22.
There was no agreement among political parties on key provisions of the Bill at the meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday.

In its effort to meet the deadline, the Prime Minister has scheduled a meeting of the Union Cabinet on Sunday evening to discuss the amendments to the Lokpal Bill based on the inputs it received from the all-party meeting and the recommendations of the Parliamentary standing committee.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal today admitted there was no consensus on the Bill, but he added that it was the responsibility of the government to reconcile the differences and formulate its views. Stating that work on this task was already underway, Bansal said the government would bring the Bill in the “full hope that it will be acceptable to all”.

With social activist Anna Hazare stepping up pressure on the government, the ruling coalition is considering the option of extending the winter session which may be called in January in case the Bill is not passed by December 22. It was stated that it is not possible to extend the session beyond December 23 as MPs from North-East like to go back to their constituencies for Christmas celebrations.

There are, however, lurking doubts about the smooth passage of the Bill in the ongoing session which is slated to conclude on December 22 as the Opposition could block it on some pretext in order to embarrass the government.

The Left and the BJP have publicly stated that they want the Bill passed in this session. But with social activist Anna Hazare threatening to campaign if his version of the Lokpal Bill is not passed in the winter session, the Opposition has a vested interest in sabotaging the Bill. “Let’s first see the government’s draft. We could raise objections, if it brings a half-baked Bill,” a senior BJP leader admitted.

The Opposition has the upper hand here as the government does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha and needs its help in the passage of Bills. Not taking any chances, the Congress has issued a three-line whip to its members to ensure their presence from Monday to Thursday next week.

Opposition parties believe they stand to draw political mileage in next year’s Assembly elections if the Lokpal Bill is not passed in this session as Anna Hazare is all set to campaign against the Congress in the poll-bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand.

The government, on the other hand, contends that the Opposition would end up exposing itself if it blocked the Bill.

In its effort to draft an acceptable Bill, the government is learnt to have agreed to the conditional inclusion of the Prime Minister under the Lokpal’s ambit. The ombudsman will also be given powers to supervise corruption cases against 57 lakh Class C employees, while the cases could first be referred to the CVC.

The CBI’s status is the real problem area as Team Anna is demanding that the Lokpal should have total control over the investigative agency. While divergent views have been expressed by political parties, the government wants the prosecution wing to be placed under the ombudsman which will also supervise corruption cases being investigated by the CBI. 





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