New Delhi: Differences between civil society members and Union ministers continued in the last meeting even as the government initiated a political process to find a consensus over the anti-graft Bill before Parliament’s monsoon session begins.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh convened a meeting of his allies to prepare a political strategy for the Bill ahead of the upcoming session.
Although there was no official announcement, two people who are familiar with the developments said the monsoon session of Parliament, earlier expected to begin in the third week of July, will be postponed to August because the government wants more time to prepare a consensus over the Lokpal Bill.
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“The CCPA (Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs) has decided to recommend to the President for summoning the session of two houses of Parliament on 1 August and, given the contingencies and exigencies of the work, it is likely to go up to 8 September, ” parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Bansal said. “There have been instances in the past also where the session has been held in August.”
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alleged that the government’s move to delay the session raised questions about the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s majority status in Parliament.
“The government is afraid of facing Parliament because not only its own MPs (members of Parliament) from Andhra Pradesh are unhappy with it, even its allies are not at ease,” BJP spokesman Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said. “... The delay in calling the session of Parliament puts a question mark on whether the UPA enjoys a majority at the Centre or not.”
Meanwhile, in the ninth and last meeting of the joint drafting panel for the Lokpal Bill, the government said for the first time that the committee has “agreed to disagree”.
“In the course of the meeting, both of us exchanged drafts... had a small discussion on salient issues. It was not a debate but a friendly discussion. We agreed to disagree,” said Kapil Sibal, a committee member and the union minister for communications and information technology. “It is very clear that on all important issues there is no consensus.”
Two drafts from both sides in the panel will be circulated among political parties at an all-party meeting scheduled for July. Suggestions from them will be included and presented before the Cabinet.
“After that, on whatever there is consensus—whether it is our draft, their draft or a combination—that final draft would be presented in the monsoon session,” Sibal said.
The civil society members in the panel said they were “disappointed” by the final draft of the Bill submitted by the government.
In Tuesday’s meeting, both sides exchanged their final drafts.
“Today, for the first time, we are able to see what kind of Lokpal the government had in mind, and I must confess that I am deeply disappointed by the model of Lokpal that the government has proposed,” committee member and lawyer Prashant Bhushan said.
The civil society members said the main points of divergence included the government seeking a higher political representation in selecting the Lokpal, keeping the prime minister and higher judiciary out of its ambit, and the Lokpal not having any say in cases of violations of the citizen’s charter.
While the civil society members said they would take a day or two to react in detail to the government’s version, three cabinet ministers and committee members, including Sibal, Veerappa Moily and Salman Khursheed, held a briefing in the evening reiterating they cannot afford to have a parallel government.
“With the constitution being there, can there be a parallel executive body separate from the constitution, not accountable to anyone? Can we have a body like this?” Sibal said.
Committee member and law minister Moily said the government’s version of the Bill included giving full police powers to the Lokpal, and that the Lokpal can take up suo-moto complaints, have quasi-judicial powers, and contempt powers. “Out of the 41 principles set out in the Jan Lokpal Bill (civil society’s version of the Bill), practically over 34 points our Bill has enunciated,” Moily said.
The joint drafting committee for the Lokpal Bill, which was formed in April, has been meeting for two months. While initially the rift was not too apparent, in the past three meetings, the differences between the two sides have become visible with them making public statements against each other and differing on the basic principles on the proposed Bill.
Graphic by Ahmed Raza Khan/Mint
PTI contributed to the story.