New Delhi: The crucial all-party meet on Lokpal Bill on Sunday ended on a positive note with majority of the political parties agreeing to bring in a bill for a “strong” and “effective” anti-corruption ombudsman, though there were differences on the provisions of the proposed legislation.
“The all-party meeting agreed that the government should bring before the monsoon session of Parliament a strong and effective Lokpal Bill following the established procedures,” stated a resolution passed after the three-hour-long meeting.
In the all-party meet, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reaffirmed his government’s commitment to table the Lokpal Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. He stressed on the point that such an institution will have to work within the framework of the Constitution.
“The government is committed to the enactment of a Lokpal Act, which provides for a strong, effective and quick institutional arrangement for tackling corruption in high places. We are also committed to bringing the bill before parliament in the coming monsoon session,” Manmohan Singh said in his opening remarks at the all-party meeting.
Underlining that the Constitution provides for an “intricate system of checks and balances”, the PM said that the new institution of Lokpal has to find an appropriate place in that matrix.”
Nonetheless, there was a consensus at the meeting that setting up of the institution of Lokpal should not undermine the established Parliamentary processes of enacting a law.
The meeting, convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his official residence of 7, Race Course Road was aimed at evolving a consensus over the contentious provisions in the draft Lokpal Bill.
The minutes of the meeting include inclusion of the Prime Minister, higher judiciary, MPs’ conduct inside Parliament and CBI’s anti-corruption wing in the ambit of Lokpal.
Emerging from the meeting, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj told the media, “We clearly said that BJP wants a strong and effective Lokpal who is selected transparently and be able to function independently.”
Swaraj further added that the bill should be referred to the Parliament’s Standing Committee so that all political parties, state governments and members of civil society are able to present their views. “After due consultations, the bill may be passed in the Winter Session,” she said.
Sharp differences surfaced in the meeting on various provisions of the proposed legislation. Main Opposition BJP, which kept its cards close to its chest on the contentious issues, said it has serious differences over the Lokpal draft with regard to jurisdiction and process of selection and removal of the Lokpal.
“We have serious differences on who should come within the purview of the Lokpal, the appointment mechanism, who is eligible to be appointed and who should initiate removal of Lokpal, among other issues,” Leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said.
Swaraj too echoed, “We have serious differences over several provisions of the draft prepared by the ministers.”
At the meeting, the government came under attack from opposition BJP for engaging with civil society in drafting of Lokpal bill before consulting political parties.
Sushma Swaraj complained that the government had set aside Constitutional and political processes and tried to draft the bill with civil society. “It is only when you got stuck, you remembered us,” she told the government.
Responding to criticism, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the government had under no circumstances wanted to tamper with the established procedures to enact a law.
When the bill is tabled in Parliament, it will be the property of Parliament, Mukherjee added.
Interestingly, a number of regional parties, except AIADMK, are in favour of including the Prime Minister in the ambit of Lokpal but not the higher judiciary. AIADMK is of the view that bringing the Prime Minister within the ambit of Lokpal would encourage frivolous complaints and derail the process.
Key UPA constituent DMK and a number of other smaller parties like AGP, INLD and TDP favour the inclusion of Prime Minister within the ambit of Lokpal. The Left parties share the same view. In fact, DMK even wanted the higher judiciary to be brought under it. And AGP felt judiciary should be brought under scrutiny of national judicial commission.
The all-party meeting comes a day after Gandhian Anna Hazare met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to seek her support for the Jan Lokpal bill – the civil society’s version of the bill.
Hazare on Saturday had declared he will go on a fast from August 16 if a comprehensive legislation is not brought to parliament.
“If a half-baked bill is sent to parliament, what will the parliament discuss?” Hazare had said yesterday after the meeting with the Congress president at her 10 Janpath residence.