Two drafts, two views: back to square one after final meet on Lokpal Bill

Govt opposes civil society's bid for an effective corruption watchdog

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Danish Raza | June 20, 2011



The 10-member drafting committee on Lokpal Bill failed to arrive at a consensus in its final meeting on Tuesday.

Representatives of the civil society and the government exchanged their drafts, which showed that differences on key issues persisted between the two sides.

Prashant Bhushan, one of the five civil society representatives on the panel said, "In today's meeting, for the first time we could see the government's version of the Lokpal Bill. We are really disappointed by their model of the Bill. This is only a symbolic attempt to have an authority by the name of Lokpal and not an independent anti-corruption body which we had visualised.''

HRD minister Kapil Sibal said, "Both the sides have exchanged their drafts of the Lokpal Bill. There are some points on which we have agreed to disagree."

The two drafts will now be provided to the political parties for their comments, after which the cabinet will pronounce its view and the bill will be introduced in parliament in the monsoon session.

Arvind Kejriwal, a civil society representative on the panel said, "All the differences which we had in the beginning with the government still persist. The government has proposed a very weak model of investigation whereby the accused will be heard before the lodging of the FIR and also during the course of investigation."

Significantly, it became clear in the final meeting that the government did not propose to bring the prime minister within the Lokpal's ambit even after he demits office. 

Earlier report: 

The government has hardened the stand on the issue of bringing under its ambit the prime minister, judiciary and the conduct of MPs inside Parliament.

Along with these longstanding issues, two more points emerged out of Monday's meeting - selection of members of the appointment committee of the Lokpal and the procedure to remove Lokpal. Anna Hazare's team said the government was pushing for too many politicians in the appointment committee which would result in conflict of interest. About the procedure to remove Lokpal, Prashant Bhushan, a member of the drafting committee said, "If anybody has evidence that the Lokpal is corrupt, then he or she should be able file a complaint with the supreme court and the court should hear the complaint the way it takes writ petitions. But the government says that only government officials should be empowered to move the court against the Lokpal."

When the talks began, Team Anna had submitted 40 principles to the government. Of these, the two sides stand agreed on 11 points.

The drafting committee will have its last meeting on Tuesday at 4.30 pm. "Now both the sides will work on their drafts, which will be exchanged in tomorrow's meeting. These will be merged and one common draft will be presented to the all-party meet and then the cabinet," Kapil Sibal, union minister for HRD and member of the drafting committee, said.

On its part, the civil society representatives will meet the leaders of various political parties. "We will brief them on our demands, said Arvind Kejriwal. 

Meanwhile, there are media reports that as per the government's draft of the Lokpal bill, the anti- graft body will be able to act against the PM only once he demits office. Civil society members of the drafting committee have called this 'useless'. "It is as good as saying that the PM will covered once he is dead. What is point of having a corrupt PM? He is a threat to the national security. If it is proved that the PM is corrupt, he should resign with immediate effect," said Bhushan.

Except for civil society member justice Santosh Hegde, all members of the ten-member committee attended the meeting at finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's office in North Block.

The meeting comes in the backdrop of a shrill exchange of words between both sides on contentious issues and government making it clear that it was opposed to bringing the prime minister under the ambit of the Lokpal.

During the last meeting on June 15, government nominees had asked the civil society members to present their draft while they will present theirs as there was no forward movement. It was also decided that a draft bill will go to the cabinet along with points of divergence.

In an indication that the Congress had hardened its stand, party chief Sonia Gandhi sent a terse letter to Hazare indicating her unhappiness with him for making his letter public and said she has already made her views "clear" on issues raised him.

Senior ministers held discussions last evening to fine-tune the government's strategy.

While the government has virtually ruled out bringing the post of the prime minister under the ambit of the anti-corruption watchdog, the Congress core group has favoured convening an all-party meeting on the issue of inclusion of the prime minister.

Government sources indicated that the meeting is expected to be convened soon after June 30 by which time the work of the joint committee to draft the bill will be over.

Senior ministers like P Chidambaram and several top party leaders have been maintaining there was divergence of views on the prime minister's inclusion.

Reports have it that the UPA constituents too have divergent views. They say that since the Congress is leading the coalition it has to take everyone together.
 

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