The protracted tug-of-war over the Lokpal bill appeared to have come to the end of its first phase as the joint drafting panel held its final meeting on Tuesday, producing two separate drafts of the bill, signalling the unbridgeable gulf between the views of the government side and the civil society representatives.
The two versions will now go for the consideration of a soon-to-be convened all-party meeting. After political consultations, the draft bill will be considered by the Cabinet and subsequently will go to the Parliament. It is unclear at this stage how the two drafts will be reconciled or the differences eliminated, and at what stage. The civil society members have already expressed their unwillingness to relent.
Social activist Anna Hazare , who spearheaded the agitation for a strong anti-graft legislation, announced last week that he was unhappy with the progress made through negotiations, and would resume his fast-unto-death on August 16.
Addressing the media after the last meeting of the draft panel, Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal indicated that the draft bills might be subject to a much wider consultation process, including all political parties as well as state governments, than previously thought.
Sibal said the government was happy with the progress made, even though some differences remained. The key differences that remained were over the inclusion of the prime minister under the Lokpal’s ambit (government is opposed to this), the inclusion of higher judiciary (the government feels this would duplicate the purpose of the judicial commission ) and inclusion of lower bureaucracy (government favours the inclusion of officers of grade A and above). The other key differences include the conduct of MPs in Parliament and the terms of the selection and removal of Lokpal members.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, water resources minister Salman Khurshid said the government was not in favour of amending the CrPC, which would have been required to incorporate some of the suggestions in the civil society’s draft bill.
Sibal said the civil society members were in favour of making death penalty the maximum punishment for graft under the bill, but they settled for life imprisonment. “You can’t have a parallel government outside the government to run this country,” Sibal said. “We want a strong Lokpal bill, but we don’t want to compromise the very delicate constitutional balance provided for in the Constitution by our forefathers. They were far wiser than us,” Sibal said.