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Civil Society wrests concessions from Gov on Lokpal bill, but structure remains undecided

Though the Government and Civil Society members of the Lokpal bill drafting committee disagree on the fundamental structure of the planned institution, the civil society members can be credited with having won major concessions from the government.

Among the assurances that have been secured by the civil society members from the government side include the government abandoning its earlier stand that ‘frivolous’ complainants must be throw into jail and agreement to consider any undeclared asset of a ‘public servant’ to be acquired through corrupt means unless he or she proves otherwise.

The biggest sticking points are on the following:

1) Life imprisonment for extremely corrupt public servants — Government feels life imprisonment is too harsh.

2) The authority of the Lokpal to decide how many new courts it needs to set up every year — Government feels it may not be possible to full-fill the demands all the time due to delays in securing judges, passing the expenditure bill etc..

3) Quantum of punishment to depend on rank of official — Government wants the same punishment for everyone, from the peon to the Minister.

These disagreements are in addition to the basic disagreement over how the Lokpal as an institution should be.

While the government wants it to look like a Court, the civil society members want it to look like a super-charged CBI, similar to an army of “juge d’instruction” — or executive judges created by the French emperor Napoleon. Under this model, there would be many officer-judges who would go about the business of investigating corruption charges, making charge-sheets and recommending or deciding punishment.

A top body of 11 members — similar to what the government suggests — would be there only as an appellate and supervisory body. If someone is aggrieved by a decision of such special official, they can appeal to the Lokpal bench.

In the Government model, however, there will only be a bench and all cases will ‘filed’ in front of it and it will process the cases much like a Court does today.

Not surprisingly, civil society members were against such a model as it would be difficult to accommodate the investigative part in this system and since all cases have to be dealt with by the same bench, it would get deluged by the ‘case-flow.’ The government has asked for time to study the model suggested by civil society members.

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