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Thursday, 13 October 2011

Lokpal to be a constitutional body: Khurshid

The Congress-led government looked set to toe party scion Rahul Gandhi's line on Lokpal.

It surprised everyone on Tuesday when Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid announced that the government intended to make Lokpal a constitutional authority - more powerful than the Election Commission.

A constitutional amendment Bill will be introduced for this purpose in the winter session of Parliament, starting next month, and the Lokpal legislation would be approved, he added.

This corresponds exactly with Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi's idea, who stirred a hornet's nest with a similar proposal during his zero hour speech in the Lok Sabha on August 26 - when social activist Anna Hazare was on a hunger strike at Ramlila Maidan pushing for his Jan Lokpal Bill.

Gandhi stunned the Opposition by advocating that the Lokpal be made an independent statutory authority like the Election Commission.

Khurshid on Tuesday acknowledged that the move was in line with Gandhi's "controversial" suggestion, which was - the Opposition alleged - a ploy to take the sting out of Hazare's Jan Lokpal campaign.
"He is very committed to that and he believes that it is a very important step we must take, because the Lokpal is no ordinary institution," the minister said. The proposal was yet to be formally considered by the Union cabinet, but the government and the party were keen on a Lokpal that would have a constitutional status, he added.

"We are working on a very strong Lokpal Bill that will come with a constitutional amendment. That amendment will give the Lokpal the status of a constitutional authority," Khurshid told PTI.
"The Lokpal will be more powerful than the Election Commission and will have far greater powers. Its profile and stature will be much higher," he added.

Asked about the composition of the Lokpal, the law minister said the proposal was to have an 11-member panel, at least 50 per cent of which will have a judicial background, such as former judges of the Supreme Court and high courts.

The non-judicial members in the anti-corruption ombudsman will be from the civil society, including those who have worked on corruption issues and good governance such as those who have held high positions in investigation agencies.

In the thick of Hazare's hunger strike, Gandhi had said the Lokpal Bill alone could not combat corruption and that a set of effective laws were needed.

Khurshid's remarks came on a day when civil society groups debating anti-corruption measures came up with recommendations for strengthening the proposed whistleblowers and grievance redressal legislations, stressing that these would supplement the Lokpal Bill.


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