The first meeting of the joint committee set up to draft a Lokpal Bill, comprising government and civil society members, got off to a smooth start on Saturday, two days after the controversial Bhushan CD hit the headlines.
Under intense public pressure over Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death campaign against corruption, the government was virtually forced to form a Lokpal Bill joint drafting committee. Saturday’s meeting, which was audio-recorded, decided to go all out to introduce the contentious legislation during the Monsoon Session of Parliament. The next meeting of the 10-member panel is scheduled for May 2 when the substantive provisions of the bill are likely to be discussed. Anna Hazare said the first meeting “went off well”.
At the next meeting, the committee is expected to discuss the draft provided by the activists along with the draft presented by the government. The new draft presented by the civil society members is believed to have amended an earlier provision relating to the selection committee that would choose the Lokpal and members. Under the new proposal, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have replaced the Rajya Sabha Chairman and Lok Sabha Speaker as proposed by the old draft. This, incidentally, is a provision being tacitly opposed by political outfits cutting across party lines. Though the BJP, taking advantage of the situation, has been mounting pressure on the government to bring the legislation, questions were asked on why the NDA did not push for the bill when it was in government.
The other issue, of video-recording the meetings, which had been bothering the government, also came up for discussion. While Saturday’s 90-minute meeting, chaired by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and co-chaired by eminent lawyer Shanti Bhushan, was audio-recorded, there was a suggestion that all future meetings should be videographed. Sources disclosed that the government on Saturday did not agree to put the audio recording of Saturday’s meeting in the public domain, as demanded by the other side.
The civil society members also suggested further public hearings and discussions on the bill on a regional basis and on the Web. Speaking to the media, Mr Arvind Kejriwal, who represents civil society in the 10-member panel, said, “We are insisting on videography. We do not have a problem if it is telecast but that may not be possible to ensure transparency in the proceedings of the committee.”
Speaking to a news channel, Mr Kejriwal accused Union minister Kapil Sibal of misleading the media. “Kapil Sibal is misleading the nation. I advise him not to hold informal debriefing sessions in the interest of the country. No issues regarding the draft were discussed in today’s meeting.”
On the issue of further public hearings and discussions on the bill on a regional basis and on the Web, Mr Prashant Bhushan stated that all concerned organisations would be consulted as part of the public consultations. “The actual modalities are likely to be finalised in the next meeting,” he said. He pointed out that India is a signatory to the UN Convention against Corruption which is in the process of being ratified and requires an independent Lokpal. “The fundamental principles and substantive provisions of the bill will be discussed in the next meeting. After that we hope to hold at least one or more meetings of the committee every week to complete the work as soon as possible,” Mr Bhushan said. Asian Age