Draft bill gives the jitters to babus

Onus on proving innocence lies on govt employee, officials complain

Bureaucrats have expressed fears over the provision in draft Jan Lokpal Bill which puts the onus of proving innocence on the  government employee against whom a graft complaint has been made.

The Arvind Kejriwal government's plan to introduce the anti-corruption bill has  also attracted suggestions on restricting the scope of complaints that can be filed on subjects like pollution.

Officials have recommended that bringing IAS and IPS officers under the bill was not needed as they are already covered by a Central law against corruption.

Some government departments have suggested that the complaints to the ombudsman need to be specific.

“If a complaint is filed to clear the city’s air of pollution in a month and the department fails to do so, will the Lokpal order deduction of salaries of government employees?” asked an officer.

The suggestion to give the Lokpal sweeping powers – to investigate, prosecute and punish – has also been red-flagged by experts who view this as against the principal of natural justice. 

Officers in the Chief Minister’s office said the government was confident of getting over most of the hiccups and was moving swiftly towards passing the Bill in a special session.

Kejriwal told reporters that the Cabinet discussed the draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill on Friday and a final decision on it would be taken on Monday.

The ruling AAP government, which was born out of the anti-graft agitation of Anna Hazare, had made passing the Lokpal Bill an election issue. 

The party promised in its manifesto that it would pass the law within 15 days of coming to power. The deadline has, however, been extended several times by Kejriwal.

The draft proposal has varying punishment for the same offence for government employees holding different posts. 

“A re-look has been suggested on the clause which recommends severe punishment for a senior officer and less severe punishment for a low ranked employee for the same offence,” said a source.

The power of the Lokpal to send to jail a person found guilty of a corrupt act has also been questioned.

“Jail sentences in our legal system are handed down by the courts, Lokpal cannot be allowed to operate as parallel judiciary,” said an officer.

The tenure of the Lokpal and other five members of the institution have also been a subject of intense debate. The suggestion from various departments is to keep the tenure fixed at a maximum of five years.

Since the draft proposes to give the Lokpal the status of a judge of the Delhi High Court, who are appointed by the president, a suggestion has also been made to ensure that the power to remove the ombudsman should not be with the Lieutenant Governor but should be with the President.

Fearing delays due to queries raised by the Lokpal, some departments have also objected to the provision that would give the ombudsman the power to put on hold executive decisions if there is prima facie suspicion about any wrongdoing.

Officers said ongoing projects should be spared the intense scrutiny that can be applied to works that are at the stage of preparing files.

“This will help check delays and cost over-runs,” said an officer.

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