Lokpal Bill amendment: Panel seeks views from political parties

Tuesday, 4 August, New Delhi : A Parliamentary Committee examining Lokpal amendment bill has sought views from all recognised political parties on exclusion of assets detail of a government employee’s spouse and dependent children in mandatory property declarations filed by him. As per rules notified under the Lokpal Act, every public servant shall file declaration pertaining to his assets and liabilities, including that of his spouse and children, as on March 31 every year or on or before July 31 of that year.

The amendment Lokpal Bill, which is under consideration of a 31-member Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, headed by Congress MP EM Sudarsana Natchiappan, seeks to exempt government employees to give such details of their spouse and dependent children. “We are sending letters to all recognised political parties to give their opinion on amendment of Section 44 of Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013. They have been asked to give reply by August 14,” Natchiappan said.

The provision deals with declaration of assets and liabilities by a public servant. The political parties have been asked to depute any of their office bearers for further input before the panel which is scheduled to meet on August 18, he said.

The panel had earlier sought more time from Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari for completion of its work. “”We are awaiting for extension of time for submitting the report from the Chairman’s office,” Natchiappan said
The amendment bill was was introduced in Lok Sabha on December 18 last year. It was then referred to the Committee on December 22, last year which was asked to submit its report by March 25, this year. The panel had sought extension, which ended on July 30, to complete the task.

Bureaucrats have been demanding exemption from filing assets details of their spouse and dependent children. “Our main objection is that such information, which will be made public under the provisions of the Act, may pose security threat to their family members and prone to misuse,” a senior government official said.

As per the Lokpal Act, competent authority in respect of each ministry or department shall ensure that all such statements filed by bureaucrats are published on their respective website by August 31, of every year. The amendment bill also seeks to prohibit such public disclosure of assets. A provision where the competent authority shall, in public interest, ensure that the information is published in such manner as may be prescribed, has been incorporated in it.

The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act provides for establishment of an anti-corruption watchdog Lokpal for the Union and Lokayuktas for the states to inquire into graft charges against public functionaries. The amendments in the Act include the one for allowing the leader of the largest Opposition party in Lok Sabha, in the event there is no Leader of Opposition in the House, to be present on the selection panel for appointment of the chairperson and members of Lokpal.

The Lokpal selection committee headed by the Prime Minister has as its members the Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader of the Opposition in the Lower House, the Chief Justice of India or a judge of the apex court nominated by him, and an eminent jurist who could be nominated by the President or any other member.