Governement mulls putting Chief Justice of India (CJI) on panel to select CBI chief

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The Lokpal bill is likely to be considered by the Cabinet on Tuesday even as the government finetunes provisions like providing for a selection committee for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief that will comprise the prime minister, leader of opposition and the chief justice of India...

The Lokpal bill is likely to be considered by the Cabinet on Tuesday even as the government finetunes provisions like providing for a selection committee for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief that will comprise the prime minister, leader of opposition and the chief justice of India.

The decision to make CJI a member of the selection committee is a change from the proposal set out to the Cabinet by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday which preferred the Lokpal along with the PM and leader of opposition. The government is also considering an option for a five-member selection committee.

The government also needs to take a call on whether caste and community quotas in the Lokpal's membership will pass the constitutional test. While reconvening Parliament after Christmas remains an option, the government is pulling out all stops to ensure passage of the bill in the December 21-23 window ahead of the scheduled end of the winter session.

With Sunday's Cabinet discussion resulting in a consensus on most of the bill's provisions, differences with the opposition narrowed to CBI's administrative mechanism.

The government feels that by reducing the government's role in the CBI chief's appointment, the autonomy debate is settled, BJP is not convinced about the administrative levers remaining under the control of the department of personnel and training, seen as an adjunct of the PMO.

The differences with Team Anna, however, are larger as the activists are insisting on the Lokpal having full control of CBI including its investigative and prosecution wings. The Hazare group also wants lower bureaucracy to be under the Lokpal's jurisdiction rather than a process by which cases are first vetted by the Central Vigilance Commission.

Back-channel exchanges between Team Anna and the government did not yield much result as the government argued that the state-level Lokayuktas can be mandated under the Lokpal law and they will address complaints against the lower bureaucracy.

The Centre also feels that complaints under a grievance redress law against officials who do not perform their duties dealing with public services should be referred to the Lokpal only after a departmental process and an appellate body is convinced of the need for such action.

There is still a gap between the activists' demands over issues like inclusion of the PM in the Lokpal ambit as Team Anna is not in favour of safeguards. But here the government is on surer ground as BJP is also of the view that PM should not be investigated on matters relating foreign policy, nuclear strategy and national security.