Lokpal bill may be referred to Select Committee

New Delhi: With the Budget session set to conclude on Tuesday, the much debated Lokpal Bill, instead of being brought in the Rajya Sabha, could be referred to a Joint Select Committee amid lack of consensus on its key provisions. "A decision will be taken tomorrow", a Union minister involved in the process said when asked whether the bill would go to a Joint Select Committee or Select Committee.

When a Bill comes up before a House for discussion, it may be referred to a Select Committee of the House or a Joint Committee of the two Houses. The Select or the Joint Select Committee considers the Bill clause by clause just as the two Houses do. A senior Congress leader, who declined to be identified, said the possibility of the bill being referred to a Joint Select Committee, cannot be ruled out.

Reports said that in the absence of consensus on key provisions of the legislation including the one dealing with Lokpal`s superintendence over CBI appears to be deterring the government from bringing the bill in the Rajya Sabha this week. The bill has already been passed by the Lok Sabha. Uncertainty hung over the bill coming up in the Upper House in the current session with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee saying yesterday that the Business Advisory Committee of Rajya Sabha will take a decision.

The original plan was to move official amendments to the Lokpal Bill and bring it for passage in the Rajya Sabha on May 21, the penultimate day of the current session. But, the reluctance of BJP and other parties to soften their stand on other amendments sought by them seems to have come in the way of government`s consensus-building exercise. BJP has been insisting that the legislation should be passed before the end of the current session, criticising the Union government over the delay in the passage of the Bill for creating an anti-corruption ombudsman.

Congress MP Abhishek Singhvi, who had headed the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Personnel, that went into the Lokpal Bill, however, downplayed any possible move to refer it to the Joint Select Committee. Singhvi said, "On the principle of Lokpal, let no one doubt our commitment. It is not a question of if, it is only a question of when in the near future. It is important to have maximum number of parties on board to ensure its quick and efficient passage."

There have been indications of the government having second thoughts on bringing the bill in this session as differences still persist on some of the issues despite the government holding consultations with leaders of a number of political parties. On Wednesday last, Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy had said the government stands by the commitment to bring the bill in the present session. The amended form of the bill includes deletion of the controversial provision for appointment of Lokayuktas and bringing more transparency in the appointment of CBI chief.

Debate on the bill, passed by the Lok Sabha in December last year, could not be completed in the Upper House during the last Winter session due to technical reasons. BJP has said the government should not think it can get away with a repeat of the scenario that took place on the last day of the Winter session on the Lokpal Bill when the debate continued till midnight and the House was adjourned without completing the discussion.

Despite the government`s efforts to push the legislation with deletion of the clause prescribing the formulation of state-level Lokayuktas and changes in the removal procedures for Lokpal, the bill has not cleared all the hurdles. The Opposition has not let up its pressure on the government to bring the bill, albeit in the form it prefers, to the Rajya Sabha.