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Cabinet approves Lokpal bill amendments

Posted on Jan 31, 08:52PM | IANS

New Delhi, Jan 31 : The cabinet Thursday accepted the separation of Lokayukta in the states from the Lokpal at the centre, while accepting 14 of 16 amendments recommended by a select panel of members of the Rajya Sabha on the proposed bill to institute an anti-graft ombudsman, Lokpal.

"We have accepted 14 out of 16 amendments proposed by the select committee... we did not approve two," Minister of State in the prime minister's office V. Narayanasamy told reporters after the cabinet meeting.

The bill will now be put to vote in the Rajya Sabha, and will also return to the Lok Sabha with the new amendments, Narayanasamy said.

The Lok Sabha had approved the Lokpal bill in 2011, but it got stuck in the upper house. In May 2012 it was referred to the select panel.

Given that two amendments recommended by the select panel have been turned down by the government, officials facing a preliminary probe will be given a hearing under the present draft of the bill, and the Lokpal will also have no power to transfer CBI officials investigating a case referred by it.

The prime minister's office, Narayanasamy said, will also be under the Lokpal, with some riders related to national security and external affairs.

According to the minister, the state government will have to enact a law for setting up an institution of Lokayukta within a year of the centre passing the Lokpal bill.

The selection panel for the Lokpal will comprise the prime minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, Chief Justice of India, and an eminent jurist, the minister said.

He said charitable institutions aided by the government will also come under the ambit of the anti-graft ombudsman.

On the selection of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director, the minister said it will be done by the prime minister, the leader of opposition in the lower house and the chief justice.

The minister also said that a person affiliated with any political party would not qualify to be a member of the proposed Lokpal.

The bill also proposes that director prosecution of the CBI be selected by the chief vigilance commissioner.

"I am happy to say the cabinet has given the seal of approval. The select committee recommendations have broadly been accepted," Law Minister Ashwani Kumar told reporters.

Earlier this week, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi wrote to social activist Anna Hazare assuring him that the legislation would be passed in the coming budget session of parliament.

"It is for the parliament to decide on the bill," Narayanasamy said.