Government on Saturday made it clear its opposition to bringing the post of Prime Minister under the purview of Lokpal till he/she demits office and ruled out opening the conduct of MPs inside Parliament as also the higher judiciary to scrutiny of the proposed ombudsman.
“Within the government, we feel prima facie, the Prime Minister should not be covered (under the Lokpal). But at the same time we want to make sure that if he demits office, he should not be exonerated from prosecution,” said HRD Minister Sibal who is part of the joint drafting committee on Lokpal.
However, he said, the five ministers in the joint committee were willing to be persuaded to bring the Prime Minister under the ambit of the anti-corruption legislation if the civil society side gives a “compelling argument”.
“Not an individual but institution”
Contending that it was not the question of “an individual, Manmohan Singh” but “an institution”, he said on Karan Thapar’s Devil’s Advocate programme, “Which Prime Minister in office anywhere in the world has been prosecuted in the world? Please tell me, please give me an example.”
The government is also “clear” that the conduct of MPs inside Parliament should not come under the Lokpal, he said.
“What happens inside the House, the Speaker and the House should deal with it…and not the Lokpal. We can have a mechanism within the House where sanction can be given for investigation once the Ethics Committee concludes that there is a criminal offence,” he argued.
Judicial Accountability Bill
He said the government was against bringing higher judiciary under Lokpal’s ambit but open to look into civil society’s suggestions on corruption there in the Judicial Accountability Bill “if they are acceptable to the government”.
Speaking two days ahead of the last meeting of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, Mr. Sibal was of the view that the proposed legislation should deal with corruption cases at higher level, otherwise covering 40 lakh odd central government employees would require a massive infrastructure independent of government.
At the same time, he said the government was flexible on the issue of inclusion of officials below Joint Secretary level under the Lokpal.
He was also not in favour of bringing CBI and CVC under Lokpal saying, “unnecessarily there is no need to destroy CBI (or CVC)” while having a separate investigation wing for the ombudsman.
On Hazare fast
Asked about the fast announced by Anna Hazare from August 16, he said the government will see to any step that the civil society activists take “outside drafting” the bill.
He said people rallied behind Mr. Hazare during his protest in April as they were upset with corruption but claimed most of them do not know what is Lokpal Bill.
“Anna Hazare is like the ‘Pied Piper of Hamelin’ The tune is lilting and people were upset with corruption just as government is. We want to deal with it. But those who follow him, where they say corruption should be deal with, do not know what the Lokpal Bill is,” he said.
Taking a dig at the Gandhian, he said, “if Anna Hazare had been in the Constituent Assembly, there would be no Constitution.”
He said fasting was a way of self purification and is “not meant to be an act of aggression. I think a lot of people including Hazare has misunderstood the meaning of fasting.”
Strong anti-corruption legislation
When referred to the comment by activist Arvind Kejriwal that the government was bringing a “jokepal” bill, Mr. Sibal said it was the time to be serious about giving the country a strong anti-corruption legislation.
“Abuse and insults should stop…let us not trivialise the subject by calling it a Jokepal,” he said.
Mr. Sibal disagreed when asked whether the government gave too much space to the civil society, saying with changing circumstances, one needs to have a change in attitude.
Queried whether the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Committee was doing the same as the Hazare team, he said the members of the NAC chip in with good advice but were not the ones “who go to Jantar Mantar and fast“.
“There are huge areas of agreements which are not placed in public domain,” he said in veiled reference to civil society members’ claims that there were large areas of disagreement,” he said.
Mr. Sibal said the differences with the civil society were “not irreconciliable” as negotiations were meant to bridge differences and not for increasing differences.
“We will try and resolve as much (differences) as possible…When the hurdle comes, we will see…The question is the extent of the area the Lokpal wishes to occupy,” he said. Hindu