Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition to be on Selection Committee

At their first meeting, the government nominees on the joint drafting committee of the Lokpal Bill on Saturday agreed to take on board the latest version of the draft Jan Lokpal Bill tabled by Anna Hazare.

At the same time, it was decided that wider consultations with people, political parties and leaders would be held. Various drafts of the Bill, including the one with the Parliamentary Standing Committee, would also be discussed.

The meeting, described as a “historic step'' by Union Human Resource Development and IT Minister Kapil Sibal, got off to a smooth start. Although the National Advisory Council comprising civil society members is in place, this is the first time civil society members have formally become part of a governmental process in formulating legislation.

Valuable: Sibal

Talking to journalists after the 90-minute meeting, Mr. Sibal said the latest draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill was “valuable” and would be given “serious consideration.'' At the same time, civil society members were also asked to look at the government Bill.

“It was an amenable meeting and valuable suggestions were made on how to move forward,'' he said, adding that everyone agreed on bringing a comprehensive Bill in the monsoon session of Parliament. The salient features of all drafts would be discussed at the next meeting scheduled for May 2.

From all accounts, the major demands of civil society members were “largely'' accepted by the government nominees headed by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. It was agreed that the meeting would be audio-taped and the minutes of important decisions made public.

At the outset, Mr. Hazare said the Lokpal Bill would be an important step for society and the nation in tackling corruption. “The Bill will put the brakes on corruption in the country and help reduce the gap between the poor and the rich.''

Emphasising the need for transparency, he requested the government to videograph all meetings, but sources said the Ministers pointed out that all discussions would then “make headlines'' which may not be conducive for smooth functioning.

The latest version of the Bill has two major changes. One, there would be a Search Committee comprising the former CAG and the former CEC who would suggest three times more the number of candidates than the vacancies. In the previous draft Bill there was no provision for a Search Committee.

The other change is that the Selection Committee which would select the Lokpal and other members would comprise the Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition instead of the Rajya Sabha Chairperson and the Lok Sabha Speaker.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan said while modalities of consultations would be discussed at the next meeting, civil society members would begin public consultations “right away.'' He wanted weekly or even twice weekly meetings held on the draft Bill.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Hazare described the meeting as “preliminary.''

Asked about allegations that he was surrounded by people close to the BJP, he said, “I have never been close to any side or party or RSS or Shiv Sena.''

To another question on the various allegations being made against members of the civil society on the panel, he said: “This will happen. This is our trial. Stones will be thrown at a tree that is loaded [with fruits], not the one that is barren.''