The Joint Drafting Committee on the Lokpal Bill ended its deliberations on Tuesday without a common text, and the government has decided to go ahead with its plan of consulting political parties and Chief Ministers on the two different versions before getting the Cabinet to clear a final draft.
Expressing “deep disappointment” at what it said was the government's watered down version of a Lokpal Bill — an official draft was presented to it for the first time on Tuesday — Team Anna criticised the exclusion of the Prime Minister from the ambit of the ombudsman and threatened to take to the streets from August 16. Anna Hazare, who has accused the government of lacking the will power to draft a Bill altogether, plans to go on another “indefinite” fast from that day. “The people will teach them [the government] a lesson,” Mr. Hazare said.
The ninth and last meeting of the committee did not last an hour; the two sides exchanged their drafts. The government representatives were, to quote Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily, “quite happy that the deliberations of the committee have come to an end.”
Mr. Moily, accompanied by Kapil Sibal and Salman Khursheed, said both versions of the draft Bill would be circulated among the Chief Ministers and political parties ahead of the all-party meeting in July and, along with their responses and comments, the Cabinet would be approached to take a decision on the final draft to be presented before Parliament.
The Ministers said the decision to keep the Prime Minister out of the purview of their draft was not that of the government but of the five Ministers on the committee. The Prime Minister had no role in it, they stressed.
They clarified that they had discharged the responsibility vested in them to take a call on the issue and decided to keep the Prime Minister out of the ambit of the Lokpal for various reasons, which, among others, was not to question the integrity of the post. Only the Cabinet took government decisions, they explained.
They said the attempt was to set up a new institution; the parameters of the new system had to be drawn at a particular point without changing the law of the land. The power to subject the Prime Minister to scrutiny had not being given to the Lokpal but he would still continue to be covered under the Prevention of Corruption Act and the CBI.
Stressing their draft Bill was the outcome of deliberations with the civil society members spread over nine meetings, the Ministers said it was the best possible Bill in the current geo-political situation. Agreement was over 34 out of the 40 points presented by the civil society members.
They explained in great length the difficulties in adopting the six other suggestions made by Team Anna even to give all powers to the Lokpal to investigate and prosecute bureaucrats who enjoy protection under the Constitution.