Sharp differences came to the surface at a meeting of the drafting committee for Lokpal bill on Monday with the government strongly opposing proposals for inclusion of prime minister, higher judiciary and acts members of Parliament inside Parliament under its purview.
Anna Hazare, one of the members of the committee, who is spearheading the campaign for a strong and effective Lokpal bill, said that he was not hopeful of the government meeting its deadline of June 30 for preparing the bill.
At the meeting held under the Chairmanship of Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, contentious issues came up for discussion in the committee for the first time.
Arvind Kejriwal and Prasahant Bhushan, both civil society members of the committee, said except on one issue of keeping citizen charter and public grievances under the jurisdiction of Lokpal, the government opposed the demands for bringing the prime minister, higher judiciary and the corrupt acts of MPs inside Parliament under the ambit of the Lokpal.
They said the government's proposals on Monday were "worse" than what it had proposed in its first bill, which had been "condemned and rejected". Kejriwal said even the latest bill of the government had kept prime minister under the purview of Lokpal but the government has gone back on it.
As no agreement could be reached between them on Monday, the government has decided to write to states and political parties to seek their opinion on these "issues of divergence" and get back to them at the next meeting on June 6.
Sibal said there was need to take the view of the states since Lokayukts have to be appointed there. Bhushan said the government representatives told them that bringing the Prime Minister under Lokpal's purview would make him 'dysfunctional'.
He pointed out that the government's bill itself had a provision for bringing prime minister under the Lokpal and even now he was not beyond the purview of investigation on corruption issues.
"We only wanted that he comes under the purview of an independent agency instead of the agencies that come under the government which results in conflict of interest," Bhushan said. Kejriwal also rued "prime minister wants to be investigated by an agency like the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is under him but not by an independent agency." Besides Mukherjee, those who attended the meeting from the government side were Ministers P Chidambaram (Home), Sibal (Law), Salman Khurshid (Minority Affairs) and M Veerappa Moily (Law). From the civil society side, those present were Hazare, Shanti and Prashant Bhushan, Kejriwal and Santosh Hegde.
While the civil society members wanted the Lokpal to have powers to investigate corruption cases against the entire bureaucracy irrespective of its hierarchy, the government was of the view that the law should confine itself to officers of Joint Secretary level and above.
On the issue of investigating corruption cases against the MPs, the government said that it has no objection to the Lokpal investigating corruption issues involving them outside Parliament but opposed the proposal to allow Lokpal to investigate the acts of corruption by the MPs inside Parliament.
The government also wanted that the defence personnel should be kept out of the purview of the bill, Kejriwal said. He added that the government also held the view that the offices of Chief Vigilance Commissioner and CBI should not be merged with Lokpal.
The civil society members, however, rejected the government's contentions and expressed dismay at its response. "There were too many fundamental differences on the
bill today," said Kejriwal adding the government wanted "self regulation" to take care of the issue of corruption in higher judiciary and the acts of MPs inside Parliament.
"We told them that self regulation has not worked in the last sixty years." Bhushan said "the response of the government was not very reasonable on all the issues. We were a bit disappointed by the response of the ministers. This whole concept of self-regulation does not work."
Asked whether he is hopeful of an early resolution on these contentious issues, Kejriwal merely said "let us see and wait what happens". Sibal, however, expressed confidence that the bill for a strong and effective Lokpal will be a reality. "We must provide the country with a transparent legislation as corruption is an issue which concerns everybody. We remain committed to provide the people an effective Lokpal."
Asked what will be the guiding principle of the government in drafting the bill amid so much differences, Sibal stressed "the guiding principle is that the Constitution is supreme. Any Lokpall bill must be consistent with theprovisions of the Constitution."
Kejriwal, however, said if keeping everything like judiciary, PM and MPs violate the Constitution then what will come under the Lokpal's ambit. He said that a decision has now been taken to seek public opinion on these contentious issues on website and seek their suggestions.
It was decided that the joint drafting committee will meet twice on June 6 and 10.