New Delhi: Simmering differences between civil society members and government representatives spilled over on Monday after an attempt was made to bring the prime minister and the higher judiciary under the purview of the Lokpal Bill.
In its fifth meeting on Monday, while government representatives—including senior Union ministers Pranab Mukherjee, Kapil Sibal, M.Veerappa Moily, P. Chidambaram and Salman Khursheed—expressed their reservations, civil society members said their demand was “non-negotiable” and threatened another agitation.
While government representatives conceded there were differences, they declined to articulate them. However, the members representing civil society did not hold back.
“Effectively the government has not agreed on anything discussed today. Today, the suggestion given by the government is even worse,” said committee member and activist Arvind Kejriwal. “They are saying the prime minister and judiciary should not be in (the Bill’s purview) at all.”
The government has suggested writing to political parties and state governments for suggestions. The joint drafting committee is expected to complete drafting the Bill by 30 June and introduce it in the forthcoming monsoon session of Parliament.
Kapil Sibal, Union minister for communications and information technology and a committee member, agreed there was a divergence of views.
“On some issues where there is a divergence, we will write to state governments and political parties for their views... so that we have the benefit of their views on these difficult issues,” he said while addressing media persons. Sibal added that the outstanding issues included those related to Parliament, the judiciary, members of Parliament (MPs) and Public Service Commission.
The joint drafting committee in its last meeting on 23 May had agreed on half the provisions of the Bill and asked the law ministry to begin drafting the Bill. However, none of the contentious issues was discussed in the last four meetings.
Civil society representatives in their version of the Bill, called the Jan Lokpal Bill, have demanded that the prime minister must come under the ambit of the Lokpal. It is proposed that the Lokpal will have powers to receive complaints and prosecute all public servants. They have also demanded stricter punishments for high-ranking officials from the bureaucracy in cases of corruption.
Prashant Bhushan, senior Supreme Court lawyer and civil society representative in the committee, said the government expressed its reluctance to include the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on the grounds that it would be rendered “dysfunctional”. “The response of the government is not reasonable,” he said.
The next meeting of the committee is scheduled for 6 June, followed by another on 10 June.
B.G. Verghese, a political analyst and columnist, said Parliament will eventually decide the nuances of the Bill.
“It (differences between the two sides) does not surprise me at all because there are different points of view and a different approach,” Verghese said.
“As far as the deadline is concerned, it is not sacrosanct that it must happen. If there are certain issues, they can say that they will pass the Bill, and subject to certain conditions, it can be amended later,” he added.
The joint drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill was constituted in April after a nationwide public movement anchored by social activist Anna Hazare, who went on a fast demanding a strong anti-corruption law.