A roller-coaster 12 days and “victory” for both sides

Congress negotiators and Anna Hazare's associates repeatedly shifted the goalposts through the four-and-half-month stand-off on the shape and structure of the Lokpal Bill.

The Anna group flagged as many as 40 issues during the many rounds of discussions in the joint Lokpal drafting committee set up after Mr. Hazare ended his April 2011 fast in Jantar Mantar here. Of these, 34 were more or less resolved by the time negotiations broke off in July.

This left six sticking points. Anna's side wanted the following under the Lokpal:

The incumbent Prime Minister; the judiciary; the lower as well as upper echelons of the bureaucracy; actions and conduct of MPs within the two Houses of Parliament and a citizens' charter for time-bound delivery of services. It also wanted the Lokpal Bill to provide for setting up of Lokayuktas at the State level.

The government outwardly appeared intractable on the inclusion of the Prime Minister. Indeed, its Bill exempted the incumbent Prime Minister from scrutiny. And yet, government negotiators had privately told Mr. Hazare's team that they were open to the inclusion of Prime Minister and this aspect could be seriously examined by the Standing Committee looking at the Lokpal Bill. Political parties and others favouring inclusion of the Prime Minister could place their views before the Committee.

However, on judicial corruption, the political class was unanimous that it could not come under the Lokpal, as doing so would compromise the independence of one vital pillar of democracy. The political consensus favoured addressing judicial corruption separately through a fortified Judicial Accountability Bill. This left little elbow room for Team Anna, which reluctantly agreed to drop the demand, only insisting that the Judicial Accountability Bill be passed simultaneously with the Lokpal Bill.

The Anna group also hit the wall on bringing the parliamentary conduct of MPs under the Lokpal. Not just the Congress, no other party was willing to trifle with the immunity granted to MPs by the Constitution: The actions of MPs within the Houses are safeguarded from scrutiny by Article 105 of the Constitution. During the debate in Parliament on Saturday, MPs pointed out that they were already covered by ordinary laws for any wrongdoing and in the 14th Lok Sabha, the House itself decided to expel 11 MPs after the cash-for-questions scandal.

The Anna group then decided not to yield any ground on the remaining three points. However, the simultaneous setting up of the Lokpal and the Lokayuktas raised concerns about federal autonomy. Many parties argued that Parliament could not encroach on the rights of States. As a via-media, the BJP talked about an “enabling law” and a “model Act” for the States to follow. (The resolution adopted by the two Houses talks about the “establishment of a Lokayukta in the States,” but is silent on whether it would be through the Lokpal Bill.)

On the demand for a citizens' charter, the government had reservations but promised a separate grievances redress mechanism that would address this issue. (The resolution leaves this ambiguous; it mentions a “citizens' charter” without saying if it would be under the Lokpal).

On the last “sticking point” of bringing the lower bureaucracy within the ambit of an overarching Lokpal, the dominant political view was that such a law would clog up the system, making it inefficient and ineffective as it would be flooded with thousands of complaints. (What Parliament has now agreed to in principle is that the lower bureaucracy can be brought under the Lokpal “through [an] appropriate mechanism.” What this mechanism is has not been spelt out. The BJP has suggested making the Lokpal an appellate authority for cases involving the lower bureaucracy.)

So how do things stack up at the end of the 12-day fast?

The Anna team started with the maximalist position of “only the Jan Lokpal Bill and by August 30. Key negotiator Shanti Bhushan announced from stage that the government would be allowed no leeway in its enactment, and even the smallest amendments would first need to be cleared with Mr. Hazare.”

However, by the second week, the demands were pared down to three key points and the deadline for enactment of the law extended to “within this session.” This even as the entire Lok Sabha, along with the Speaker, joined the Prime Minister in an appeal to Mr. Hazare to give up his fast.

As the countdown for the denouement began, the Anna team hardened its stand. It rejected several proposals, insisting each time that the three demands be put down in a resolution and voted upon. On Saturday, Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan declared that if the resolution was not voted upon, it would amount to a “betrayal.”

In the end, the three points figured in a resolution which was not put to vote. The finale allowed both sides to claim victory. Anna's team because it had forced Parliament to convene a special session on a Saturday where speaker after speaker accepted that corruption needed to be tackled head-on. The government and the political class because they had shown that they could collectively rise to the occasion — without compromising on parliamentary integrity and due process.

Team Anna's resolution forwarded to the Prime Minister for Parliament to adopt (it was not adopted):

This House resolves that

1. A Lokpal Bill shall be passed by Parliament in the ongoing session of Parliament which will set up an independent Lokpal at the Centre and independent Lokayukta on same model in each State.

2. The House further resolves that the Lokpal shall have jurisdiction over all government servants (barring judicial officers) at the Centre and the Lokayukta shall have jurisdiction over all public servants in States.

3. Such law would require that all government departments make citizens' charters to provide which public dealing work will be done on how much time and by which officer violation of citizens' charter shall be penalised by the Lokpal or Lokayukta.

Resolution adopted by both Houses:

The House discussed various issues relating to setting up of a strong and effective Lokpal. This House agrees in principle on the following issues: a) citizens' charter b) Lower bureaucracy also to be under the Lokpal through appropriate mechanism c) Establishment of a Lokayukta in States. And further resolved to transmit the proceedings to the department-related Standing Committee for its perusal while formulating its recommendations for the Lokpal Bill.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 9:49:05 AM |

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