NEW DELHI: Conceding a major Team Anna demand, the parliamentary committee examining the Lokpal Bill has decided to recommend that 57 lakh "Group C" central government employees - or the entire lower bureaucracy - be placed within the ambit of the anti-corruption ombudsman.
In a controversial decision, the panel also decided to exclude the prime minister from the Lokpal's jurisdiction as long as he holds office. This was at its final meeting to consider the bill on Wednesday.
BJP members decided to submit a note of dissent to protest against the omission of citizens' charter, grievance redressal mechanism and protection of whistleblowers from the legislation. BSP, the Left and SP will also put in dissenting notes on certain other reservations they have on the bill.
Inclusion of Group C employees should take care of cutting-edge corruption; the kind of extortion that the common man faces when seeking delivery of a whole range of services - from getting a passport to an FIR lodged. This section includes officials of the rank of police inspectors, clerks, supply inspectors and the like, in other words the bureaucracy that a regular person has to deal with.
The draft Lokpal bill now covers virtually the entire bureaucracy, taking care of the criticism that restricting the ambit to just Group A and B would have left people helpless against government employees who are the face of the government to an overwhelming part of the population.
Significantly, the Hazare group was not impressed by the concession. Prashant Bhushan described it as a marginal improvement while criticizing the exclusion of the PM while in office as unconstitutional. His colleague Kiran Bedi spoke in the same vein, setting the stage for a fresh confrontation.
"Inclusion of Group C employees is a marginal improvement but this will not satisfy us. The exclusion of the PM from the Lokpal's purview as long as he is in office is unconstitutional and is likely to be struck down. This is not good enough and will not affect our plans to protest," Bhushan said.
Kiran Bedi added, "Why not Group D too? It is already a part of Parliament resolution and the PM's letter. Do these commitments not have moral binding? CBI remains with government. So how does it help?"
A majority of members of the parliamentary standing committee on law and justice felt the PM should not be embarrassed by any investigation during his tenure. BJP members disagreed and said the PM should be within the law with the exception of matters impacting national and strategic interests.
Those opposing the move to bring Group C employees in the Lokpal's purview said the sheer volume of complaints would be too high for the Lokpal to handle. It might swamp the institution besides breeding its own interests. However, the majority view prevailed that the anti-graft law would not be effective unless most government employees were in the ambit of the law.
Sources said BJP member Kirti Azad said the citizens' charter and grievance redressal should be part of the Lokpal Bill. Both provisions were part of the 'sense of the House' resolution adopted during the previous session of Parliament and the current recommendations did not respect these in true measure.
BJP members also asked for the appointment of the CBI director to be mandated on the lines of the central vigilance commissioner who is chosen by a selection committee that includes the leader of opposition in Lok Sabha. As CBI is often accused of being influenced by the Centre, a more independent selection process can make the agency less susceptible to government pressures.
BJP members said the protection of whistleblowers should be brought under the Lokpal act and called for more stringent provisions for removal of the Lokpal other than a recommendation by the President.
Speaking after the meeting, committee chairman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, "We have completed all our deliberations. The committee has deliberated on each issue and we have tried to reach a consensus on several varied and diverse issues.'' The committee is expected to finalize its report on Thursday.
The Member of Parliament Local Area Development Division is entrusted with the responsibility of implementation of Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). Under the scheme, each MP has the choice to suggest to the District Collector for, works to the tune of Rs.2 Crores per annum to be taken up in his/her constituency.