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Punjab Cabinet Approves Lokayukta Bill; CM, Ministers in Watchdog's Ambit

File photo of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

File photo of Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.

The Congress-led government in the state said the Bill, which will replace the existing Punjab Lokpal Act, is a “seeping reform measure” aimed at “further enhancing governance and checking corruption”.

Chandigarh: The Punjab cabinet on Monday approved the introduction of the Punjab Lokayukta Bill, 2020, for passage in the ongoing session of the Legislative Assembly.

The Bill seeks to replace the existing Punjab Lokpal Act, 1996, and will cover all public functionaries, including the chief minister. The government said the Bill is a “seeping reform measure” aimed at “further enhancing governance and checking corruption”.

Bringing in a new Lokayukta was one of the major pre-poll promises of Captain (retired) Amarinder Singh before coming into power in the state.

The Bill envisages an autonomous body to inquire into the grievances and allegations against public functionaries in the state, and makes provisions for appointment of the Lokayukta.

The watchdog shall have all the powers of a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure 1908. It will also provide for prosecution in case of false complaints.

The legislation bars a parallel probe into a complaint against any officer/public functionary if an inquiry is being conducted into the matter by the Lokayukta, a government official said.

However, RTI activists have termed the Bill “toothless” as a two-third majority of the House is required to attain a prosecution sanction against the chief minister, ministers and MLAs. Further, all sanctions by the Assembly, whether or not permission to prosecute is granted, will be binding on the Lokpal.

Also, the Lokayukta will not have the authority to conduct a parallel inquiry into a matter already under investigation by the government.

Besides, the chairperson and members of the body will be appointed by the governor on the recommendation of a selection committee, comprising the chief minister as the chairperson, Speaker of the state assembly, Leader of the Opposition, Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court and an eminent jurist nominated by the Punjab government.

The four-member anti-corruption watchdog shall have a chairperson, who is or has been a judge of the High Court or the Supreme Court.

At least one member shall be from amongst persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes or the Backward Classes, minorities, or women, all of whom shall be qualified personnel with impeccable reputation.

All complaints will be scrutinised by a screening committee of the Lokpal before issuance of the notice. The screening committee will also take the government’s opinion on the matter.

RTI activist DC Gupta said the entire process is a farce as the Lokpal would not be able to do anything without the government's sanction.

“What is the need of the Lokpal if it has to take the opinion of the government? There are so many conditions that will render the Lokpal toothless. The government is throwing dust in the eyes of the public. It will not be transparent. If it remains under the thumb of the ministers, how will it function? The government is simply passing the buck.”

He also said the scrutiny committee is discriminatory and opaque.

(With inputs from PTI)

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