Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley has said though the ‘sense of the House’ passed by Parliament on the three demands of Team Anna is not binding on the Standing Committee, it is unlikely to reject it.
He said it “is a commitment before the whole country. The chances of the House, going back on it normally does not arise.”
Maintaining that it was only an “in-principle” acceptance of the three points raised by Team Anna, Mr. Jaitley explained that there was “no proposer, no seconder, and no voting” as is normally the case when a resolution is passed.
“I think parliamentary flexibility gives you enough leeway. If you were to ask me in one sentence, I think it was a sense of the House statement which in the text used the word resolve twice.
“So there is a genuine ambiguity. But I am quite willing to accept it as a statement which indicates that it is a resolve on the part of the House,” Mr. Jaitley said in an interview to Karan Thapar for Devil’s Advocate programme on CNN-IBN.
“When a statement was read out by Pranab Mukherjee and which uses the word resolve twice, the entire House thumped their desks in approval,” Mr. Jaitley said.
However, he said, “As long as all concerned political parties and Team Anna treated it as a resolution even though it is a unanimous approval of a sense of the House, I think (there are) very little turns in this.”
The BJP leader said it was for the Standing Committee to decide how the modalities are going to be worked out in detail.
“It respects the dignity of Standing Committee in as much as it does not give it a directive. It leaves the nuts and bolts of how it is to be framed to the Standing Committee,” Mr. Jaitley said.
Mr. Jaitley said working out the details of the Lokpal Bill is the job of the Standing Committee.
“I think the three principles ordinarily would find a place in the final draft in a positive sense. The House is very responsible and so is the Standing Committee....”
The senior BJP leader claimed that there were several points of agreement between his party and Team Anna. This includes the three issues of Citizens’ Charter, lower judiciary and the Lokayukta.
Mr. Jaitley said the Centre would not legislate on most of these issues and, according to federal principles, only an enabling law would be passed by the Centre.
“Each state would work it out for itself.... There is an enabling law under Article 252. We are a federal polity,” he said. He, however, said Team Anna had insisted that the Centre can legislate on some of these issues.
The eminent lawyer claimed the Lokayukta will have “two possible powers“— to prosecute under CrPC and IPC and dealing with the bureaucracy of the state. For the first, the Centre can legislate as it comes under the Concurrent List but for the second the Centre has no jurisdiction.
“That part of the law can never be binding on the state and so it can only be an enabling law or a model law,” Mr. Jaitley said, adding that this model law may or may not be accepted by the states.
On inclusion of lower bureaucracy within the Lokpal’s ambit, as demanded by Team Anna, Mr. Jaitley said, “I think legislating on a contentious area at times is also an art of the possible, particularly when you have too many conflicting views.”
Mr. Jaitley insisted that he and his party had “absolutely no difficulty” with Team Anna’s proposal that the entire bureaucracy can come under the Lokpal.
“I have absolutely no difficulty. In principle, I and my party accept that. We would prefer that,” he said, with the caveat that if the Standing Committee came up with an alternative proposal it could be considered.
Mr. Jaitley maintained that while he was quite flexible when it came to legislating on lower bureaucracy, his own “preference” has been to the view of Team Anna.
“I would urge all to keep an open mind so that by the winter session we can effectively legislate,” he said.
‘Team Anna quite reasonable’
The senior leader said though there were differences with Team Anna initially, the BJP was in agreement with it on most issues later.
“Towards the end as our own position evolved, and in all fairness, I must say Team Anna was also quite reasonable on many issues. They also moderated their position. There is an extreme close proximity to the position and broadly the position of various groups was also found to be quite reasonable,” Mr. Jaitley said.
“Team Anna was coming not closer to us but to something that was more pragmatic,” he said.
On bringing the Prime Minister within the ambit of Lokpal, Mr. Jaitley said, “They may not have said this publicly (about some exceptions being made). But in our meetings with them they were equally clear. They are a responsible group. They have no difficulty provided these exceptions are carved out with some element of discretion.”
He maintained that on Article 105, Article 311 and federal polity, Team Anna “chose to respect” the BJP view.
“We have a great amount of agreement with them. But we are being flexible... without compromising on the basics,” Mr. Jaitley said.
However, on issues like inclusion of higher judiciary, privileges of MPs, and tapping of phones within Lokpal, the BJP made it clear that these were “never acceptable” to it.
“Our stand and their stand isn’t radically different,” Mr. Jaitley said.
He described the demand for putting CBI in Lokpal’s ambit a “vexed issue” which requires further debate within the BJP and also with Team Anna.
“I would rather prefer an autonomous CBI,” he said, but added that he would like to hear everybody out, including the CBI administration.