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Make or break week for Lokpal Bill

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New Delhi : With the Union Cabinet expected to consider the much awaited Lokpal Bill on Monday evening, it will be a crucial week ahead that will decide the fate of the bill.

The important questions on which decisions are expected to be taken this week are whether to bring the Prime Minister, Group C government employees and the CBI under the ambit of the Lokpal Bill. Decision will also be taken on what condition or exceptions are necessary before bringing these institutions under the purview of the bill.

Top ministers and officials are trying hard to come out with an acceptable draft of the lokpal bill. After the cabinet meeting on Sunday evening, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was closeted with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, home minister P Chidambaram, telecom minister Kapil Sibal, law minister Salman Khurshid and minister of state for personnel V Narayanasamy and top officials to give final shape to the bill.

It is expected that the cabinet will clear the lokpal bill in the evening. Further on Tuesday, government is expected to seek waiver of rules to reintroduce bill in Parliament and begin dicussion in one of the House. If things go smoothly, it is expected that the government would like to at least one House to clear the bill and the other to begin discussion on it by Wednesday evening. By Thursday govt would like both the House to pass the bill acceptable to both the parties.

Informed sources said the amended bill is likely to be brought to the Lok Sabha on Tuesday and the government will make an effort to pass the legislation in the winter session that concludes on Thursday. Sources said the prime minister is expected to scrutinse the bill before it is placed for cabinet approval.

However, things may not be so smooth between the govt and Team Anna. If there are delays, the government is prepared to extend the ongoing winter session-scheduled to end on Thursday-first by a day, and if required any further, to offer to the Opposition the dates between December 27-29 to get the bill passed and prevent Anna Hazare from going on fast.

With an in-principle consensus emerging between the government and the Opposition on some of the contentious issues like bringing the Prime Minister (with heavy safeguards) and lower bureaucracy within the lokpal’s ambit, the focus has now shifted to the tricky issue of the CBI.

The government is willing to change the existing procedure for the appointment of the CBI director and other top officials. It is also ready to allow the lokpal’s supervision over graft cases to be handed over by the watchdog to the investigative agency.

It is, however, not willing to part with administrative control of the CBI. This is exactly where sharp differences have emerged between the government and the Opposition.

As a possible middle path, the government appears willing to concede the BJP’s demand for separate investigation and prosecution wings for the CBI. Creation of an independent directorate of prosecution looks a certainty, which has been recommended by several parliamentary committees.

The proposal for an independent directorate of prosecution by the law ministry in 2007, is pending with the government and it is likely to revive it.

Officials say that by doing so, the government will also put an end to criticism that it has not yet implemented the 1997 judgment of the Supreme Court in the hawala case, in which the apex court had asked for an independent directorate.

Anna Hazare has threatened to go on a hunger strike from December 27 if a strong Lokpal legislation is not enacted.