The government on Friday completed drafting the new Lokpal Bill, ignoring the Anna Hazare group`s demand for inclusion of the prime minister, chief justice of India and judges of the higher judiciary as well as conduct of MPs in Parliament in the ambit of the anti-corruption watchdog.
“Drafting of the Lokpal Bill has been completed. The department of personnel and training and legislative department have been instructed to draft a note for placing the draft before the Cabinet,” said a source involved in the drafting process. This may happen next week.
While the five ministers on the joint drafting committee have ruled out inclusion of the PM — one of the key issues on which the dialogue with Hazare broke down — the matter may be finally settled after the bill is discussed by a standing committee of Parliament. The drafting panel had included Hazare representatives.
The Cabinet is unlikely to reconsider the decision not to include the prime minister in the Lokpal`s ambit. But with the bill expected to be referred to a standing committee, and both BJP and Left strongly backing the PM`s inclusion with safeguards, the issue is yet to be sealed.
Having tried to outflank Congress on corruption, both BJP and Left will find it difficult to retract their positions.
Telecom minister Kapil Sibal made it clear that the political process would determine the bill`s content, saying, “There is no provision for an individual to bring a bill in Parliament.” He added that Hazare could approach the standing committee.
PM Manmohan Singh has been in favour of bringing his office within the Lokpal`s jurisidiction, but senior ministers are overwhelmingly against it, apprehending that the PMO might become a target of frivolous and motivated complaints, making the government vulnerable to political instability.
Anna Hazare has threatened to sit on fast from August 16 if an omnibus anti-corruption watchdog in accordance to his prescription is not created.
The draft Bill also does not bring MPs within the ambit of the Lokpal for their conduct in Parliament that might be influenced by graft. The Hazare group had demanded their inclusion, citing the JMM MPs` bribery case and the recent cash-for-vote scam.
The main reason for exclusion of the CJI and judges of the higher judiciary from the draft Lokpal Bill was that the field was already covered by Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, which is pending consideration of Parliament.
The MPs` conduct on the floor of Parliament was kept out of the Lokpal Bill because Article 105(2) of the Constitution provided that “no MP shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof…”, the sources said.
Though the draft incorporates the agreed points between the government’s ministerial nominees and members of the Hazare group, it reflects the UPA government`s insistence that the “civil society” representatives could not hijack the legislation drafting process as they did not have the people’s mandate.