The government and the Anna Hazare-led civil society team on the Lokpal Bill joint drafting committee are on a collision course over inclusion of the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary, and the actions of MPs inside Parliament within the purview of the proposed legislation.
With the government rejecting the demand to bring the Prime Minister and higher judiciary within the purview of the Lokpal Bill, and have the actions of MPs inside Parliament subject to the Lokpal’s scrutiny, civil society representatives are now virtually threatning to “hit the streets” once again.
The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, meanwhile, met on Monday evening to review the government’s strategy in view of the proposed fast-unto-death by yoga guru Baba Ramdev on corruption and black money-related issues starting June 4. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who chaired the meeting, was briefed on matters related to Baba Ramdev’s protest and the differences that have emerged in the joint committee.
The CCPA meeting, among other things, discussed the possibility of deputing a minister to talk to Baba Ramdev to persuade him not to go ahead with his hungerstrike from June 4, sources said.
Earlier in the day, after the joint committee meeting ended, its civil society members described the session as “quite disastrous”. They later issued a two-page note listing the demands which had been raised and the government’s rejection of them.
The note said the government’s intentions were now “suspect”, and added: “Please prepare yourself for the next huge movement in the country. However, we will attend the next few meetings.”
Anna Hazare, who had been spearheading the campaign for a strong and effective Lokpal Bill, also said he was not hopeful of the government meeting the panel’s June 30 deadline to finalise the draft bill. The note said the representatives of civil society would try their best to persuade the government to agree to the points “which have been rejected”. But if the government still disagreed, “we should be ready to take to the streets,” it said.
The note accused the government of being “hostile” and showing an “immensely negative attitude” to the suggestions, the note said, quoting Justice Santosh Hegde, one of the civil society members. “Then who is covered under the Lokpal? And what is the purpose of creating such a Lokpal?”
At Monday’s meeting, Anna Hazare and his team strongly pushed for inclusion of the Prime Minister, the higher judiciary and MPs, including their actions inside Parliament, as well as the armed forces and the entire bureaucracy under the Lokpal’s ambit.
The government representatives, including committee chairman Pranab Mukherjee, Union finance minister, opposed the demands, saying the Prime Minister’s inclusion would make the person holding the office “dysfunctional”. They also told the civil society members they would seek views of state governments and political parties on “issues of divergence”, and get back to them at the next meeting, which has been fixed for June 6.
Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan, both members of the committee from the civil society side, said they did not agree with the government stand that only officers of the rank of joint secretary and above would be covered under the law. If this is accepted, it will leave only 2,000 officials under the Lokpal’s ambit, they added.
“Today’s meeting was a complete disaster. We may walk out after the June 6 meeting if there is no forward movement. If there is some positive movement at the next meeting, if there is a glimmer of hope, we will continue,” Mr Kejriwal said.
HRD minister Kapil Sibal, also a committee member, said he hoped a robust and effective institution of Lokpal would soon be a reality. “We must provide the country with transparent legislation as corruption is an issue which concerns everybody. We remain committed to providing the people with an effective Lokpal,” he said.
In the note civil society representatives, while listing contentious issues, claimed the government “broadly disagreed on everything substantive”. Highlighting the shock expressed by civil society representatives at the meeting when they heard the government was averse to the proposal of bringing Prime Minister under its ambit, the note pointed out that the draft bill prepared by the government in January this year had also included the Prime Minister, though with some exceptions.
The government representatives argued that if any inquiry starts against the Prime Minister, the person holding that office would lose all authority to govern and take decisions. Countering this view, Mr Prashant Bhushan reminded ministerial representatives on the panel that in the Bofors case, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had not been deterred from taking decisions despite being under the scanner.
The civil society members’ note also countered home minister P. Chidambaram’s view that the Prime Minister’s position would be weakened if there were allegations against him every other day. They reminded the minister that unsubstantiated complaints would not be entertained under the law. Asian Age