Government-suggested panel is packed with politicians

The only one contentious issue came up for discussion at Monday's meeting between the government representatives and the civil society members of the Joint Drafting Committee on Lokpal Bill.

It was the selection and removal of Lokpal members. The two sides differed on both counts. The government preferred a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the leaders of both the Houses, the Leaders of the Opposition of both the Houses, the Home Minister, a judge of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of a High Court and the Cabinet Secretary. The civil society members opposed this, saying it was packed with politicians; instead, they suggested a committee of the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition, two Supreme Court judges, two High Court Chief Justices, the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) and the Election Commissioner.

As for the removal, the government sought to reserve for itself the right to approach the Supreme Court with the complaint, while the civil society members proposed that any citizen be free to send a complaint to the Chief Justice.

Mr. Bhushan said the aim of the civil society members was to ensure independence and fairness in the selection and removal of Lokpal members. “The issue is whether we will have a comprehensive Lokpal or just one looking [into] a few high profile cases.”

He hoped that the government would involve the whole country in the drafting of the Bill and listen to the general public and not just the political parties.

Deliberations made public

Meanwhile, the deliberations of the sixth meeting of the committee, which the civil society members boycotted after the police action on the Ramlila Grounds, has been made public. At the meeting, the government members discussed whether Lokpal members should be barred from contesting elections and whether the office of Prime Minister should be brought under the purview of the Lokpal.

The five Ministers failed to reach consensus on whether Lokpal members should be barred from contesting elections as it was suggested that a person's eligibility was laid out in the Constitution and any attempt to bar would need a constitutional amendment. One Minister even opposed the idea to bar the members from contesting elections. They decided to leave the issue to the Cabinet for a final decision.

Similarly, on the issue of inclusion of the office of Prime Minister under the ambit of the Lokpal, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee took the stand that any inquiry should be suspended till the Prime Minister held the office and, once he demitted office, an inquiry could be initiated.

As regards former Ministers, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram held that all those covered by the Prevention of Corruption Act should be brought under the ambit of the Lokpal even after retirement. The meeting favoured inclusion of Ministers, former Ministers, MPs and former MPs under the ambit of the Lokpal.

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