Notwithstanding their willingness to walk the extra mile to ensure a Lokpal Bill, the government and civil society on Thursday maintained their aggressive postures, attacking each other’s weak points and justifying their respective stands.
Social activist Anna Hazare said he was surprised by the abrupt change in the government’s stand to send two drafts to the Union Cabinet despite its assuring the civil society representatives all along that their recommendations would be considered. If it intended sending two drafts, then why form the committee? It could have stated this in the first place itself, Mr. Hazare said.
Stressing that he had submitted his draft Bill in the beginning itself, Mr. Hazare accused the government of not being serious to have a strong Lokpal, root out corruption, speed up development and do justice to the people.
Mr. Hazare said he would resume his fast on August 16 if things did not work out well.
Another civil society member of the Lokpal Bill joint drafting committee, Arvind Kejriwal, complained that not even 20 per cent of the points were discussed, questioning the decision to conclude the proceedings of the joint committee. The civil society members had agreed to the government suggestion that the judiciary be kept out of the purview of the Lokpal and that it be covered under the proposed Judicial Accountability Standards Bill, but demanded a discussion on the Bill.
Committee member Prashant Bhushan accused the government of having a symbolic Lokpal, and warned that the present exercise had created public awareness and engaged the public on the issue. It would be a folly on the part of the government if it thought it could have a wishy-washy Bill in place.
Shanti Bhushan, co-chairperson of the committee, said the government feared a threat from the Lokpal given the kind of people it was surrounded by. He said a Parliamentary Standing Committee had unanimously recommended that both the Prime Minister and the judiciary be brought within the purview of the Whistleblowers Bill, and wondered how the Ministers on the committee adopted a different posture on this issue.
But three Ministers countered the allegations and underlined the government’s resolve to have a sound Lokpal Bill by June 30, and said they hoped to do the job with the cooperation of the civil society members.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram said that in drafting the Bill, one had to keep the Constitution, its basic features and the political realities in mind. The gap between what was desirable and what was feasible had to be understood. For, no party had a clear majority in the Lok Sabha, let alone a two-thirds majority, and hence the views of other elected members would also count. He was sure the government would do a good job in the end.
Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal denied that the government representatives sought to steer clear of a discussion and only dictated their stand on any issue. On the structure of the Lokpal, the civil society members were told about the difficulty in having a pyramid right from the bottom to the top and covering all Central and State government employees who together numbered more than 1.5 crore.
“To have an institution outside the government, you will need an army of officers, who, initially, would have to be drawn from the various wings of the Union and State governments.” Mr. Sibal argued that when the civil society members considered the entire set-up corrupt, it would be naïve to expect them to turn “pure snow” merely because they had been made part of the Lokpal structure.
Similarly, he questioned the demand for parting with the audiotapes of the committee proceedings. “Is it their purpose to play a part of it on the TV channels and castigate one Minister or the other for the views he had expressed at the meeting?”
The government had agreed to empower the Lokpal to investigate and chargesheet the officers brought within its purview without having to seek sanction from the government. But it was not possible to give up the process of departmental proceedings as it not only required constitutional amendment but would make enforcement of discipline difficult.
“If disciplinary authority is vested in some other authority outside the government, why will that officer listen to me?” asked Mr. Sibal
Another Minister Salman Khursheed said the Ministers were disturbed by what was being said against them outside the committee but maintained that they remained patient and restrained only with the objective of formulating the Bill.
The three Ministers expressed their willingness for talks and denied that these had derailed. But they did not regard fasting as a way out for drafting a Bill. Hindu