With The Indian Express exposing its secret agenda note for the meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on corruption,which categorically talked of the governments plan to give statutory backing to the model code of conduct,the GoM decided not to discuss the issue,at least for the time being.
Instead,the GoM approved the draft Public Procurement Bill,which seeks to regulate government purchases using a transparent bidding process.
Sources said Union Legislative Secretary V K Bhasin,who had been asked to be ready with a presentation on the progress made on the issue of providing statutory backing to the model code of conduct,was told that he would not have to make the presentation at Wednesdays meeting.
The decision not to discuss the controversial move,one that pitted the Election Commission and many opposition parties against the Congress,was taken in view of the uproar after the publication of the report in this newspaper about the secretive move to curtail the powers of the EC. Three senior UPA ministers,all belonging to the Congress,had vehemently denied The Indian Express report,terming it highly mischievous despite clear evidence in the form of the agenda note talking about the move.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) S Y Quraishi had described the governments move a highly misconceived move aimed at curbing the powers of the Election Commission. He had also said the GoM move would be viewed as an attempt to make the EC less powerful and that it was designed to take away whatever teeth the EC already has.
On Wednesday,Union Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy,a special invitee to the GoM,again denied that the model code of conduct was part of the terms of reference of the GoM despite published proof. The agenda note for the meeting,circulated by his own ministry,says that Secretary,Legislative Department,has been asked to report to the GoM (at the meeting) the progress made in the matter of giving statutory shape to the executive instructions of the Election Commission of India.
The same note said at a previous meeting,Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had opined that the model code of conduct was one of the biggest excuses to stall the development projects,and thus agreed with the request of the Law Minister to flag the issue and its inclusion in the agenda papers.
The procurement Bill approved on Wednesday contains broad principles and would be supplemented by rules. It also facilitates a grievance redressal mechanism and penalties for offences,including barring of bidders found to engage in corrupt practices.