UPA government for excluding PM, higher judiciary and acts of MPs in Parliament from scrutiny

The Joint Drafting Committee on the Lokpal Bill on Monday for the first time got bogged down by contentious issues. The UPA government opposed scrutiny by the Lokpal of the Prime Minister, the higher judiciary and acts of MPs inside Parliament — in the context of seeking cash for votes and for raising questions — and, as a way out, embarked on wider consultations.

Both Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal, who briefed the media on behalf of the government, and representatives of civil society Arvind Kejriwal and advocate Prashant Bhushan separately said the next meetings on June 6 and 10 would be an attempt at resolving these issues after eliciting the opinions of the States, political parties and the general public.

Both sides admitted divergence of opinion on four of the five contentious issues discussed at the fifth meeting of the committee, and the expression of the two sides on the deliberations was equally at variance.

Mr. Sibal stressed the guiding principle of the exercise was the supremacy of the Constitution and any Lokpal Bill had to be consistent with the Constitution.

On the other hand, both Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Bhushan pointed out the government's opposition to most of their proposals and expressed disappointment at the government's “not very reasonable” response at the meeting.

But the civil society members took a tough stand later and issued a warning to the government that they would attend the next few meetings in a bid to persuade the government to agree to a strong and effective Lokpal Bill, but if disagreement persisted they would take to the streets.

In a statement, they described Monday's meeting as “quite disastrous” and expressed shock at the stand taken by the Ministers on various issues. “Definitely, the government's intentions are suspect,” they charged and issued an appeal to the people to be prepared “for the next huge movement in the country.” Anna Hazare, whose indefinite fast forced constitution of the JDC on the Lokpal Bill, was apprehensive of the government meeting the deadline of formulating the Bill by June-end and regretted the slow approach of the government.

Refusing to divulge details of the discussions, Mr. Sibal said the issues centred on Parliament, the judiciary and the Public Service Commission, and the opinions were divergent. It was regarded necessary to elicit the opinion of the States and political parties before seeking to resolve them at the next two meetings of the JDC.

He contended that since the States appointed the Lokayukt, it was necessary to know the States' perception on the Lokpal.

Stressing on a practical approach for taking forward the exercise for a strong legislation, as corruption was an issue that concerned the people, Mr. Sibal said the government was committed to an effective Lokpal.