Lokpal Bill: Now UPA Seeks Advice from CMs

New Delhi, May 31: Seeking to widen consultations, the Centre today wrote to all Chief Ministers and leaders of political parties eliciting their views on issues including whether to bring the Prime Minister under Lokpal.

A day after civil society activists on the Joint Drafting Committee on the Bill threatened to take to streets, Home Minister P Chidambaram and HRD Minister Kapil Sibal addressed a press conference to make it clear that the government was committed to bringing a Bill in the Monsoon session of Parliament.

The government is also trying to avert a situation like the one that evolved during the indefinite fast by Anna Hazare last month with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and top ministry officials talking to Baba Ramdev to persuade him not to go ahead with his proposed indefinite fast from June 4.

Mukherjee, who is also the chairman of the Joint Drafting Committee, today wrote a letter to the the Chief Ministers and leaders of political parties representatives in Parliament to give their views on six issues.

These include the demand of civil society members that one single Act should provide for both the Lokpal in the Centre and Lokayukta in the state and whether their governments would be willing to accept a draft provision for the Lokayukta on the same lines as that of the Lokpal.

Answer has also been sought on whether Prime Minister should also be brought under the purview of the Lokpal and if so, should there be a qualified inclusion and should judges of Supreme Court and High Courts also be covered by the proposed law.

Chief Ministers and political parties have also been asked to give their opinion on whether the conduct of MPs inside Parliament – speaking or voting in the House – be brought under the purview of Lokpal as they are protected under the Constitution.

Sibal, one of the members of the Committee, said, “We are against any change in the Constitution provision relating to this.”

The other question that has been asked is whether government servants in states or Centre be subject to enquiry and disciplinary action including dismissal by Lokpal and Lokayukta.

What should be the definition of Lokpal and should it exercise quasi-judicial powers or delegate them to subordinate officials was yet another question asked.

The replies have been sought by June 6, both the Ministers said expressing confidence that the Bill would be ready before June 30, dispelling apprehension of Hazare that it would not be ready before the promised date.

Disagreeing with civil society activists of the JDC that yesterday’s meeting was a disaster, Chidambaram said, “In our view it was a very constructive meeting…There was a very constructive discussion. That is how we take it.”

He insisted that the JDC was on the right path which involved enquiry, discussion, consultation, consensus and decision.

Chidambaram said yesterday, the meeting took potentially contentious issues which have been kept aside so far.

“There is no unanimity on the issue either among the civil society members or those who have written or spoken on the issue. So, we need to consult the political parties and the state governments,” he said.

To a question on bringing the Prime Minister under the purview of Lokpal, the Home Minister said as a government the Union Cabinet has not taken a final view.

He said there were many views on the issue and all views have to be considered.

On the allegations by the civil society members that the government has negative attitude, Sibal said if accusations are levelled, this will create obstacles in the Committee’s functioning.

“It is a very serious issue. That seriousness should not be undermined…We don’t accuse although differences can be there. If we don’t agree that does not mean that we are unreasonable….We all want, the nation wants, a strong Lokpal,” he said.

To a question on Baba Ramdev’s comments against inclusion of the Prime Minister in the Lokpal Bill amounted to speaking government’s language, Chidambaram said, “I think the most unkindest comment and the least I can say it is very, very uncharitable.”

He said former Chief Justices of India J S Verma and M N Venkatachaliah had also spoken against bringing judges of higher judiciary within the Lokpal.

“Are you suggesting that we are dividing the judiciary? There are views on every issue. Let’s hear all these views,” he said.