Update on Joint Committee Meeting…

Today’s meeting was quite disastrous. It started with Anna demanding more frequent meetings as the progress had been quite slow till now. Anna also said that the government had been postponing discussions on even simple issues so far. At this rate, the meetings would continue indefinitely.
Broadly, the government disagreed on almost everything:
  1. Government said – “Prime Minister should not be covered under Lokpal.” We were shocked to hear that because in the draft bill prepared by the government in January this year, PM was covered, though with some exceptions. Today, they wanted PM to be completely out of Lokpal’s investigations. This was shocking for us. They said that if any enquiry starts against the PM, the PM would lose all authority to govern and take decisions. Prashant Bhushan reminded that in Bofors case also, the then PM was under scanner. But that did not deter him from taking decisions. Mr Chidambaram said that the PM’s position would be weakened if there were allegations against him every other day. He was reminded that an unsubstantiated complaint would not be entertained. A seven member bench of Lokpal would first hear that complaint and decide whether there was an adequate prima facie evidence against the PM. If there were none, the complaint would be dismissed. However, government did not agree.
  2. Government said – “Judiciary would be out of Lokpal.” We reminded them that all that we were asking for was power to a seven member bench of Lokpal to decide whether an FIR should be registered against a judge or not. Today, only Chief Justice of India has the power to give that permission. And despite so much evidence against so many judges in public domain, permission had been given only in one case in the last 20 years. In the meeting held on 7th May, Prashant Bhushan had even told Mr Chidambaram how Mr Chidambaram himself had sought permission to register FIR against Justice Sen Gupta of Kolkatta High Court. Permission was sought from the then Chief Justice of India, Justice Venkatachaliah, who is very well known for his integrity. However, even Justice Venkatachaliah did not give permission. Was the evidence against Justice Sen Gupta strong enough? The strength of the evidence can be gauged from the fact that Justice Sen Gupta was raided and arrested soon after he retired because after retirement, permission of CJI was not required.
  3. However, the government did not agree saying it would compromise the independence of judiciary. We said that the independence of judiciary was compromised under the present system which was encouraging corruption. Government said that judiciary should be dealt under Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, which was pending in Parliament. We told them that the said Bill was very bad and would end up protecting corrupt judges rather than punishing them. Also, interestingly, the said Bill does not even talk of punishing and prosecuting “corruption” of judges. It only talks of enquiring against their “Misbehaviour”. The government said that they would include corruption also in the said bill. Then we said, if you want to include judiciary’s corruption in that bill, let this committee decide on drafting that Bill also. To that they refused. They said – you give your suggestions and we will recommend them to the Standing committee. This means that the government wants to include judiciary in a weak and ineffective Bill and does not want their corruption to be dealt through a strong and effective mechanism.
  4. MPs bribery inside Parliament will not be covered – If a MP takes bribe to vote or ask questions in Parliament, which would not be covered under Lokpal. Only his conduct outside will be covered. What does an MP do outside Parliament? Just recommend projects out of his Constituency fund. There too, he merely recommends and the project is executed by the officers. Therefore, effectively, all MPs would be outside the purview of Lokpal. Purchase and sale of MPs is endangering the very foundations of our democracy. They may be purchased not just by other parties but could be purchased by other countries or corporates. Therefore, in order to save our democracy, it is extremely important that this is covered under Lokpal. However, the Government said that the Parliament should be allowed to do “self regulation”. We told them that this self regulation had not worked and their corruption should be investigated by some independent body. They simply refused.
  5. All officers will not be covered under Lokpal : Only Joint Secretary and above will be covered. Who will deal with corruption at levels below that? They said that the existing system would continue. But the existing system was not working. They had no answers. We said that the common man wants an answer to corruption in his day to day life – bad roads, corruption in PDS etc. Who will deal with it? We said that the whole country had risen against corruption to seek solutions to corruption at all levels.
  6. CBI, CVC and departmental vigilance will not be merged in Lokpal: Government said that let all these agencies continue. Let Lokpal have its own machinery. But why does the government want to keep a CBI under its own control? It appears that the Prime Minister does not want to be investigated by an independent body but will get himself investigated by CBI, which is directly under his own control. Also, CBI has been misused by every successive government to arm twist politically inconvenient opponents. Government perhaps wants to continue doing that.
  7. Public Grievances: Government agreed to the concept of citizens charter and that violation of citizens charter would be deemed to be corruption at some stage of upscaling of a grievance.
Justice Santosh Hegde asked the government – “Then who is covered under Lokpal? And what is the purpose of creating such a Lokpal?”
Effectively, the Lokpal would have jurisdiction only on Joint Secretary and above officers but not on the PM. There would be around 2000 such odd officers in Government of India. Are we creating Lokpal for investigating corruption of such a few officers? Was this the purpose of such a big anti-corruption movement in India?
Definitely government’s intentions are suspect. Please prepare yourself for the next huge movement in the country. We will go to the next few meetings. We will try our best, till the last moment, to persuade the government to agree to a strong and effective Lokpal Bill. But if the government disagrees, we should be ready to take to the streets.

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