M A I N   N E W S

All-party meet on Lokpal Bill ends without any consensus
Parties want Bill to be introduced in the coming monsoon session
Ashok Tuteja & Faraz Ahmad
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 3
Consensus on the provisions of the Lokpal Bill eluded an all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence here today. The government moved one step forward in pushing its draft of the Lokpal Bill for the coming monsoon session. However, all parties attending the Prime Minister’s meet on the Bill unanimously passed a resolution endorsing government plans to bring the Lokpal Bill “following established procedures” in the monsoon session.

With the main Opposition party refusing to lay open its cards on various clauses of the parallel drafts prepared by the government and Anna Hazare’s team, there was no consensus among the political parties on points of difference between the two drafts. While the Prime Minister expressed his government’s firm resolve to enact a Lokpal Act, which provides for an “effective and quick institutional arrangement for tackling corruption in high places.”

At the three-hour-long meeting, Opposition parties were sharply divided over the draft of the legislation prepared by the government.

Emerging from the meeting, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said her party asked the government to ensure that the institution of Lokpal worked transparently and without fear or favour. “We have demanded that the Lokpal Bill be introduced in the monsoon session so that it could then be referred to the Standing Committee (of Parliament)… afterwards, it can be debated by political parties and various sections of the society. Once you have the opinion of every section, the Bill can be passed in the winters session of Parliament,” she added. Swaraj, however, maintained ambiguity about her party’s stand when asked if the BJP favoured bringing the office of the Prime Minister within the purview of the Lokpal. “We have not discussed various provisions of the Bill…they can be debated once the bill is referred to the Standing Committee,” she added.

The Congress has already stated that it would not like the office of the PM to be brought within the ambit of Lokpal.

The Left parties and several small parties have, however, opined that the PM’s office should not be excluded from the purview of the Lokpal. Some parties were of the view that judiciary should not be brought under it. There should be a judicial commission to tackle any cases of corruption in the judiciary.

The meeting was attended by top leaders of almost all the parties in Parliament amid a demand by civil society group led by Anna Hazare that the proposed law bring the PM and the higher judiciary within its ambit. It also seeks to control the MPs and bureaucracy across the nation transgressing the deferral structure of the Indian polity.

Besides the PM, the meeting was attended by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Union ministers Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, M Veerappa Moily, Salman Khurshid and Pawan Kumar Bansal (Cong) Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel (both NCP), and T R Baalu (DMK) from the UPA’s side. The Opposition was represented by BJP veteran L K Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley (BJP), JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, S S Dhindsa (SAD), Sitaram Yechury (CPM), Gurudas Dasgupta and D Raja (both CPI), Lalu Prasad (RJD) and V Maitreyan and M Thambidurai (both AIADMK), S C Mishra (BSP) and Ram Gopal Yadav (SP), among others. Other contentious issues that came up at the meeting were bringing MPs' conduct inside Parliament, CBI's anti-corruption wing and lower bureaucracy across the country within the ambit of Lokpal, besides mode of financing and the panel for selecting the ombudsman.

The government presented to the parties a comparative draft of the provisions of the Lokpal Bill suggested by the civil society and those put forward by the five Union Ministers in the drafting committee. In his opening remarks, the PM noted that the enactment of a strong Lokpal Bill has attracted a lot of attention during the past few months. He recalled how the government constituted a joint drafting committee on the Lokpal Bill, its nine meetings, which achieved considerable progress but failed to evolve consensus on many issues.

He acknowledged divergence of views on a few important issues between the Government and Anna’s nominees. “There is no doubt that corruption is a major issue today. It is not that we do not have legal and institutional arrangements in place to tackle corruption,” he said. However, there was a feeling that the institutional arrangements in place were not strong enough to ensure that the guilty, especially those occupying high positions, were brought to book swiftly and given deterrent punishment. He asserted that the government was committed to bringing the bill before Parliament in the coming Monsoon Session. However, it was important that such an institutional arrangement enjoyed the support of as large a section of people as possible and that there was the widest possible consensus regarding the Bill. “I must also add that while a good law and a strong institution are necessary to tackle the problem of corruption, these alone would never suffice. Along with these, we need to focus on simplifying procedures, reducing discretion, eliminating arbitrariness and increasing transparency in the way government functions.

He, however said that whatever arrangement was proposed, has to be for the larger good of society and the country. The institution of the Lokpal has to work in harmony with other institutions and laws and it has to function within the framework of the basic structure of the Constitution.





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