Cabinet clears key anti-graft bills

New Delhi: Pushing for a slew of anti- corruption laws, the Union Cabinet on Tuesday cleared three crucial Bills relating to judicial accountability, protection of whistleblowers and Citizens Charter–issues which Anna Hazare wants to be brought under the ambit of the proposed Lokpal.

Discussions on the Food Security Bill however remained inconclusive and is likely to be brought up in the next cabinet meeting expected to be held on December 18. Food Security issue is a pet project of UPA Chairpereson and National Advisory Council(INAC) Chief Sonia Gandhi.

The Bills approved by the Cabinet were The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010, widely known as the Whistleblowers` Protection Bill and Citizens` Charter and Grievance Redressal Bill, 2011, were by the cabinet.

Team Anna has been demanding that the judiciary, a Citizens` Charter and a Grievance Redressal mechanism be brought under the Lokpal. However, the government and some of opposition parties felt there should be separate laws to deal with these issues.

The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010, seeks to lay down judicial standards and provide for accountability of judges and establish a credible and expedient mechanism for investigating into individual complaints for misbehaviour or incapacity of a judge of the Supreme Court or of a High Court and to regulate the procedure for such investigation.

It also proposes to form a panel to incorporate a provision to have in-camera proceedings of the committee which will scrutinise complaints against judges.

The Bill seeks to make it mandatory for judges to stay away from maintaining "close relations or close social interaction" with lawyers who practice in the same court.

However, sources said some cabinet ministers felt this provision should be dropped.

The Cabinet at its meeting presided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also approved some amendments to the Prevention of Money laundering act.

On the Judicial Accountability Bill, the Parliamentary Standing Comittee on Personnel and Law and Justice had also recommended inclusion of a provision stating that judges should "restrain" themselves from making "unwarranted comments" against other constitutional bodies, institutions or persons while hearing cases in court.

Though initially this was accepted by the government and even mentioned in the Cabinet note, it was not clear whether this clause has been approed at today`s meeting.

The Cabinet also passed the Citizens Charter and Grievance Redressal Bill, 2011. This was another prominent issue which Team Anna wanted under the Lokpal.

Sources said there were differences in the Cabinet on the time frame to be given to government officials for service delivery and grievance redressal with some members stating that 15 days was too less. It was finally settled at 30 days.

The Cabinet also passed the Whistle-blowers protection bill which seeks to bring members of the Council of Ministers, the judiciary, including the higher judiciary, regulatory authorities and even the corporates within its ambit.

Government sources maintained that the Food Security Bill was deferred only as there was no time left as a meeting of UPA allies on the Lokpal issue was scheduled immediately after the Cabinet meeting.

"Discussions on the Food Security Bill remained inconclusive. We are trying our best to introduce this Bill in this session of Parliament," Food Minister K V Thomas told reporters later.

The Food Security Bill- a proposed legislation close to the heart of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and drafted by the National Advisory Council headed by her- will now be discussed in the next cabinet meeting.