Consultation shows consensus on Lokpal Bill may not be easy

The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) and civil society groups are clearly not happy with the government's draft of the Lokpal Bill, intended to check corruption in high places. But a public consultation, a day ahead of the discussions that the NAC's Working Group on Transparency and Accountability is due to have with government representatives and others, demonstrated how difficult it will be to get a consensus on a bill that has been in the works since the late 1960s.

While the consultations organised by the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) on Sunday at the Nehru Museum Memorial and Library were clear about the changes they wanted to see in government draft — these included the selection process of the Lokpal and other members, giving the real teeth, protection to whistleblowers, and the inclusion of the Prime Minister — differences emerged on two key issues. One was on whether the bill — as envisaged in the Jan Lokpal Bill version 2.1 which has been prepared by activists including Arvind Kejriwal — should include a mechanism for grievance redressal as well, as also how much information on ongoing investigations should be put in the public domain.

Hazare's threat

The consultations also came two days ahead of Gandhian Anna Hazare's threat to go on hunger fast if the government does not accept a joint committee with the group India against Corruption to work on the Lokpal Bill. Mr. Kejriwal defended the idea of a joint committee saying that laws such as the Maharashtra Right to Information Act and the Maharashtra Cooperative Act had emerged from just such a process.

Meanwhile, NAC member Aruna Roy, who heads the NAC's Working Group on Transparency and Accountability, was among a group of vocal people at Sunday's meeting who felt that while grievance redressal, such as those relating to non-payment of wages to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act workers, or failure to get BPL or ration cards or SC/ST caste cards — was of greater significance than corruption in high places, it was outside the scope of a Lokpal Bill. It would overburden the institution, they said, because of the sheer volume of complaints that would come in, but there was a case for a parallel Delivery of Service Bill to cover these cases.

Include people's grievances

Many of those pushing for the other view were grassroots workers. One of them said: “If you don't include the aam aadmi's grievances, what use is this Bill? How does the CWG scam or the 2G scam affect the ordinary man?” However, both groups agreed that perhaps one way out was to include a provision in the bill for class action suits.

The other point of difference that emerged at the meeting was on how much information should be put out in the public domain: while the former Union Law Minister, Shanti Bhushan, was for putting as much as possible out, lawyer Usha Ramanathan pointed out that the institution of the Lokpal differed fundamentally from that of the Right to Information Act.

The RTI, she pointed out, was created to make the state accountable to the people, while the Lokpal would deal with allegations of corruption. She wanted to know who will decide, at which stage how much information would be put out.

While there was agreement that during the process of investigation, information should not come out as that would hamper the investigation, many at the meeting felt the individual's privacy and right to his or her reputation needed to be factored in when drafting the bill.

Mumbai lawyer Yug Chaudhry also cautioned against too much “transparency,” saying this law would impact dealing with crimes other than corruption.

“What would happen to those falsely accused of terrorism? This is a slippery slope,” he cautioned.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2022 12:13:43 PM |

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