Key UPA constituents want Lokayukta provision deleted

New Delhi: The contentious provision relating to Lokayuktas in the Lokpal Bill may undergo change as key UPA constituents joined the Opposition in demanding its deletion but differences still persist on some other provisions.

At a meeting of leaders of over 20 parties convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh it was agreed that the legislation could be taken up during the second half of the Budget Session after evolving a consensus during the three-week intersession break beginning April.

Leader of the Opposition and BJP leader Arun Jaitley said the consensus among the parties including some UPA constituents was completely against the government that the federal structure cannot be disturbed and the Lokayukta provision be deleted.

Sharing this view, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury the setting up of Lokayuktas in states should be delinked from the Lokpal.

Interestingly, Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, leader of the Trinamool Congress, which is strongly opposed to the Lokayukta clause, said the parties were united in demanding "deletion" of the provision.

Representatives of DMK, NCP and National Conference, who are part of the government, also opposed the Lokayukta provision.

In the face of strong opposition from within, the government may consider deleting the provision related to the anti-corruption body in states. However, sources said differences persisted on the demand to broadbase the appointment process of Lokpal, which the Opposition feels is loaded in favour of the government, and the government control over CBI.

The Opposition wants an independent investigation agency under Lokpal or CBI not reporting to government on corruption cases being investigated by it.  The meeting was called to evolve a consensus to break the logjam over the bill that was passed in the Lok Sabha and got stalled in the Rajya Sabha.

Jaitley and Yechury also said the government should not have the sole say in the appointment and removal of Lokpal and demanded more representation for the Opposition and indpendent institutions. They also said that the investigating agency for Lokpal should be free of government control. "There was a deamnd that the cases of corruption being probed by CBI should be under the superintendence and control of Lokpal," Yechury said.

A suggestion was made to refer the bill to a select committee of Rajya Sabha to discuss the amendments but it was understood to have been shot down because of the view that it would be a time consuming process.

On the existing provision to bring all NGOs under the ambit of Lokpal, Jaitley said that while foreign funded NGOs can be under its scanner, private NGOs and institutions like schools and hospitals run by NGOs can be kept out. Yechury wanted inclusion of corporate houses in the bill.

"The government along with major political parties will come out with a consensus. The government is committed to bring the Bill in this session. …The actual wording of the Lokpal Bill will be worked out during the intervening period the Budget Session," Yechury said.

Roy said that the majority of political parties asked for the deletion of Lokayukta because they felt that this bill otherwise "affects the federal character of the Costitution and the autonomy of the state".

DMK leader T Siva (DMK) said laws enacted by Parliament should not undermine the rights of states. "The provision of Lokayukta should be removed from the existing Lokpal bill. We are opposing it as it will harm federal structure.

National Confernce, RJD and LJP opposed bringing Prime Minister under the purview of Lokpal. AIADMK leader V Maitreyan said there was "near unanimity" among all parties on delinking Lokayukta from Lokpal bill.

Minister of State for PMO V Narayanasamy expressed confidence that the government was hopeful of passing the bill in this session itself. "We have come to a stage where views of various political parties have been heard…now Government will take a decision on how to pass this Bill by consensus of all political parties," Minister of State for PMO V Narayanasamy said.