At a meeting held here on Saturday, civil society voices from across a wide spectrum urged that broader and multiple consultations to precede the drafting of the Lokpal legislation, warning that in the absence of a mechanism to hold the institution accountable, it could potentially turn into a “Frankenstein's monster.”
Organised by the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) and the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, it was the second such consultative meeting on the Lokpal Bill.
Participants, however, clarified that they had not set themselves in opposition to the joint civil society-government sub-committee currently examining the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by Prashant Bhushan, Santosh Hegde and Arvind Kejriwal.
National Advisory Council member Aruna Roy said the council, which had taken the initiative to discuss and examine the Jan Lokpal Bill, withdrew from the consultations following the appointment of the sub-committee. But the NCPRI committed itself to a “strong and effective” Lokpal Bill and it did not want to abandon the process in the larger interest of contributing inputs to the Bill. This was not a clash with civil society members on the committee but was an effort to ensure that the bill takes into account “the concerns and priorities of as many individuals and groups as possible.” Multiple discussions with a regional spread, helped strengthen the democratic and deliberative process, Ms. Roy said, adding, “India is a diverse country and we have to think out of all possible boxes, not confining ourselves to a single draft.” Further, “the NCPRI believes that extensive pre-legislative debate is crucial to policy formulation and the drafting of effective legislation.”
The participants included the former Chief Justice of India, J.S. Verma, the former Chief Vigilance Commissioner, Pratyush Sinha, and Chief Information Commissioner Satyananda Mishra. The vast majority of the speakers expressed dissatisfaction with what they felt were sweeping provisions of the Bill. There were fears about lack of accountability of the Lokpal and about its combining the powers of investigation and prosecution in one authority. Justice Verma wondered if the envisaged draft would not amount to amending the basic structure of the Constitution. The CIC said prima facie the Bill appeared to have been drafted without any understanding of how the government functioned. He was critical of the Bill's staggering scope and said there was a need to guard against the danger of the Lokpal becoming a surrogate government, requiring a modern-day Yudhishtar to be paratrooped to sort out the fallout.
Shekhar Singh of the NCPRI laid stress on a basket of measures in place of a single, all-powerful, all-encompassing Lok Pal. Among other things, he suggested re-examining the Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill, instituting social audits and strengthening the Central Vigilance Commission.
Keywords: Jan Lokpal Bill