GoM decides to firm up Lokpal Bill at the earliest

New Delhi: Tasked to suggest ways for tackling corruption, the recently-constituted Group of Ministers today decided to firm up at the earliest the Lokpal Bill under which even the Prime Minister will be open to scrutiny.

Meeting for the first time since its formation on January 6, the GoM directed the Cabinet Secretary to form two committees to examine the various reports dealing with anti-corruption mechanisms.

The GoM, headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, met here for the time and discussed possibilities of giving the Lokpal Bill – aimed to go into allegations of corruption against public functionaries – a "final shape" in the coming days.

The panel of ministers plans to come out with concrete suggestions by the Budget Session slated for February 21 so that further progress can be made.

The initial draft of the Lokpal Bill covers the Prime Minister and is presently under circulation with various ministries.

The Lokpal Bill has had a long and chequered history.

Legislations in the past had included the Prime Minister within the ambit of the bill only on a few occasions.

The current bill provides for inquiry against Prime Minister but it has to be routed through the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Lokpal can hear it only if it is cleared by the Speaker.

The National Commission for Review of the Working of the Constitution in 2001 had recommended that the Prime Minister be kept out of the Lokpal`s purview since he occupies a unique position and is the head of the entire governmental structure.

The GoM also directed the Cabinet Secretary to constitute two committees to compile the various reports available with the government dealing with the issue of corruption.

The committees will compile the various recommendations made in the past and return to the GoM.

The next meeting slated shortly is likely to decide on a structured timetable to decide on the seven point agenda of the panel.

Among the seven issues handed over the GoM for its consideration is the proposal to amend the Article 311 of the Constitution, which is meant to protect government servants against arbitrary dismissal and punishment.

The view in the government is that this article, which was meant to act as a shield for honest employees, has now become a hindrance in the fight against corruption.

The GoM will also look into whether a section in the law which makes it mandatory for the CBI to seek government permission before investigating a case allegedly involving any official of the rank of joint secretary and above is required.

Currently except in cases where an official is caught red handed by the investigating agency, the permission is required.

"Consideration of relevance/need for section 6 (A) of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946," states the Terms of Reference of the GoM.

Apart from Mukherjee, other members of the GoM are P Chidambaram, Sharad Pawar, AK Antony, M Veerappa Moily, Kapil Sibal, Mamata Banerjee, MK Alagiri and V Narayanaswamy.

The panel has been given 60 days to come up with proposals before the Cabinet to tackle corruption.