Shimla, April 6 (IANS) The Himachal Pradesh assembly Friday passed the Lokayukta bill in the absence of the opposition Congress, with Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal saying it is "more strong and constitutional than Uttarakhand's bill".
"That (Uttarakhand) bill has not so far been given assent by the president due to some legal hitches, but our bill is fully constitutional and comprehensive," Dhumal said.
Before the bill was introduced, Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal had criticised the Himachal bill as "very weak and ineffective". He had asked the state government to follow the Uttarakhand system of Lokayukta.
Dhumal said the bill gives the Lokayukta powers of contempt of court on par with the high court by incorporating a new clause.
"The Lokayukta shall have and exercise the same jurisdiction, powers and authority in respect of contempt of itself as a high court has and may exercise, and, for this purpose, the provisions of the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, shall have the effect subject to the modification that the references therein to a high court shall be construed as including a reference to the Himachal Lokayukta," says the clause.
The chief minister said the Uttarakhand bill covers only the government officers posted within the state, whereas the Himachal legislation covers all officers, including those on deputation outside the state.
"The Uttarakhand bill has a provision of a seven-member selection panel, including two high court judges, to appoint the Lokayukta, but we have a three-member panel comprising the chief minister, leader of opposition and the state high court chief justice."
The passage of the bill was smooth as the entire opposition Congress staged a walkout during question hour and did not participate in the debate.
The bill covers all officials -- right from the chief minister to a ward panch (ward member in panchayat). Even complaints could be filed against the elected members of Panchayati Raj Institutions and urban local bodies.
The bill, which seeks to repeal the existing Himachal Pradesh Lokayukta Act of 1983, the power to initiate an inquiry against the chief minister, ministers, chief parliamentary secretaries, legislators and officers of the rank of secretary and above and heads of the department would vest in Lokayukta but no action would be initiated without the permission of full bench of Lokayukta.
Further, the inquiry, investigations and prosecution shall continue in case the complainant dies and no complaint shall be allowed to be withdrawn unless the Lokayukta is fully satisfied that the complainant had made a bonafide mistake.
However, the prosecution sanction in case of the chief minister would be accorded by the state assembly, against the legislators by the assembly speaker and against the ministers, officers of the rank of secretary and above and heads of the department, it would be given by the chief minister.
The prosecution sanction against judicial officers would be accorded by the high court. A provision to keep the identity of "whistle blowers" secret and providing them security has also been made.
The Congress legislators told reporters that they did not participate in the debate as leader of opposition Vidya Stokes was not consulted before tabling the bill.
"The bill is weak as most of the powers to initiate inquiry against the corrupt vest with the chief minister," Stokes said.
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