Lokpal Bill panel meet: Civil society members present draft

Lokpal Bill panel meet: Civil society members present draft

New Delhi: The government-civil society discussions on a new Lokpal Bill got off to a fairly smooth start here on Saturday with the activists presenting a new draft legislation to deal with corruption.

Anna Hazare and his four nominees met five top Union ministers for 90 minutes in the North Block in the aftermath of his 98-hour fast which he ended Saturday last following the government’s acceptance of the demand for a 10-member panel to draft the Bill.

Nothing contentious appears to have cropped up at the meeting chaired by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee since the panel addressed the broad contours of the issue. “It went off well," Hazare said.

Media headlines focusing on a controversial CD purportedly containing a conversation between the panel’s co-chairman Shanti Bhushan and Samajwadi Party leaders regarding judiciary, did not come up at the meeting. Bhushan has lodged an FIR over the issue.

The original far-reaching draft legislation prepared by the civil society which had come in for considerable criticism was replaced by its representatives with a newer version which the government’s side appears to have found more reasonable.

Prashant Bhushan, one of the civil society representatives on the committee, said the only change in the draft bill relates to the selection panel to choose the Lokpal and its members.

Under the revised proposal, Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha have replaced Rajya Sabha chairman and Lok Sabha Speaker.

However, government sources said the revised draft makes no mention of action against higher judiciary, ministers and bureaucrats.

One of the ministers, who attended the meeting, said the new draft could be worked upon. From the government side, the Lokpal Bill of 2001, which had been referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, would be shared with the civil society representatives.

The next meeting scheduled for 2 May is expected to discuss the two drafts in detail.

The civil society representatives had on Friday said that their draft should be the basis for the new draft. But on Saturday Prashant Bhushan said that they were ready to look at other drafts that would come their way.

Both sides expressed the hope that the new bill would be ready by 30 June, the deadline set in the notification constituting the committee.

HRD minister Kapil Sibal, one of the five ministers nominated to the committee, said after the meeting that both the sides were keen that the new Bill should be introduced in the Monsoon session, which begins early July.

He said both sides presented their perspective on the proposed legislation. The latest draft presented by the civil society representatives had “significant" proposals, he added.

The minister said the entire meeting was audio-recorded and whenever decisions are taken they would be made public.

Sibal said the next meeting will decide on the modality of public consultations on the legislation.

Another minister, who attended the meeting, said the new draft presented by the civil society was “better" than the last one and it includes better provisions on safeguard mechanism.

He said the government was ready to discuss anything but “time was short" to conduct public consultations.

A member from the civil society in the panel said the government had not agreed to publicizing the audio-tapes of though they have agreed to make public the minutes of the meeting.

Government sources said audio recordings of all meetings is done and there was nothing new in it. However, they said audio-recordings will not be shared and only minutes of the meetings will be shared.

Prashant Bhushan said all concerned organizations will be consulted as part of the public consultations through websites and regional consultations.

The actual modalities will be decided in the next meeting, he said.

He said India is a signatory of the UN Convention against Corruption which is in the process of being ratified. The Convention requires an independent Lokpal for which an adequate Bill will be made through discussions.

“The fundamental principles will be decided in the next meeting. After that there would be meetings every week, may be more than one day if required, to complete the work," Bhushan said.