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Lokpal meet ‘friendly’, but fresh differences emerge

Lokpal meet ‘friendly’, but fresh differences emerge
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First Published: Mon, Jun 20 2011. 11 24 PM IST
Updated: Mon, Jun 20 2011. 11 24 PM IST
New Delhi: Fresh differences emerged between government and civil society members of a panel drafting the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill on Monday, a day before they meet for the last time, even as both sides said the talks took place in a friendly atmosphere.
Contentious issues such as bringing the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary under the ambit of the Lokpal, or ombudsman, could not be discussed in the Monday meeting, while government and civil society members disagreed on new issues, such as the process of selecting and removing the Lokpal.
The government representatives, including Union ministers Pranab Mukherjee (chair), P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, M. Veerappa Moily and Salman Khursheed, sought a greater role for politicians in the Lokpal selection committee. They also proposed that only the government should be able to approach the Supreme Court for the Lokpal’s removal.
But civil society members of the panel, including Shanti Bhushan (co-chair), Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Santosh Hegde (who didn’t attend Monday’s meeting), want a more “broad-based” Lokpal selection committee. They also said any citizen should be able to seek the Lokpal’s removal in the apex court.
“These points of differences have emerged, the old ones are already there,” senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said.
Civil society members want the Lokpal selection committee to include the Prime Minister, leader of the opposition, two Supreme Court judges, two chief justices of high courts and the chief election commissioner.
The government’s proposed list includes the Prime Minister, leader of the other house of Parliament (either Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha), leader of opposition of both houses, speaker, home minister, cabinet secretary, one Supreme Court judge and a high court chief justice.
“There are too many politicians in this committee and this will result in a direct conflict of interest, because the Lokpal will investigate politicians in cases of corruption and no politician will be in favour of making a strong Lokpal,” Kejriwal said. “If the selection process goes haywire, the Lokpal’s office can become dangerous for the country.”
The committee, which was formed in April, will hold its ninth and final meeting on Tuesday, where both sides will exchange their versions of the draft Bill.
On Monday, the government submitted to civil society members an exhaustive list of issues that have been debated by the committee. Civil society members said of the 41 issues mentioned, consensus had been reached on only 11.
Both the sides, though, welcomed the decision that the draft Bill should be discussed at an all-party meeting.
After weeks of acrimony, they also said the talks on Monday took place in a friendly atmosphere.
“I think it’s a major step forward and both sides think that we should move towards a consensus and where there are significant areas of divergence and disagreements, to formulate a draft in which those areas will be spelt out,” telecom minister Sibal said.
“Difference of opinion were there on a lot of issues,” said Kejriwal, “but at least today the discussions happened in a very good atmosphere. Arguments were heard and arguments were given by them.”
The ruling Congress party reiterated the Parliament will have the final say on the Lokpal Bill, while the party state its views in the all-party meeting.
“In the constitutional scheme of things, only the legislature can draft and pass laws... The party stands committed to a strong Lokpal Bill,” Congress spokeswoman Jayanthi Natarajan said.
PM convenes UPA meet on Lokpal
New Delhi: A meeting of United Progressive Alliance leaders is being held on Tuesday as part of efforts to ascertain views of the alliance partners over the drafting of the Lokpal Bill.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has convened the meeting apparently to consult the constituents of the ruling alliance over issues such as bringing the post of the PM under the ambit of the anti-corruption watchdog.
PTI
anuja@livemint.com
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First Published: Mon, Jun 20 2011. 11 24 PM IST