Finance Minister’s Statement in the Lok Sabha 27 August 2011
I rise to make a statement on issues relating to Lokpal on which a vigorous debate has been going on both inside and outside the Parliament.
2. At the outset, I will like to, once again, request Shri Anna Hazare to end his fast in view of the appeal made by the Prime Minister in his statement and the sentiments expressed by the Hon’ble Leader of the Opposition, and by the Hon’ble Speaker of this August House on 25th August 2011.
3. I seek your indulgence to recount the sequence of events which has brought us to where we are today.
4. On 5th April 2011, Shri Anna Hazare went on an indefinite fast. Correspondence with the representatives of Sh Anna Hazare and the Govt. representatives took place. On 8th April 2011, Government constituted a Joint Drafting Committee (JDC) consisting of five nominees of Shri Anna Hazare including himself and five nominee Ministers of Government to prepare a draft of the Lokpal Bill. Shri Hazare ended his fast on 9th April 2011.
5. The JDC met nine times during April-June 2011. In the first meeting of JDC on 16th April 2011, preliminary discussions were held to draft the legislation for the Lokpal. During the second meeting of the Committee, 40 Basic Principles and the Statement of Objects and Reasons were circulated by Shri Hazare’s team which formed the basis of discussions in subsequent meetings of the Committee. There were extensive deliberations on the ‘basic principles’ wherein the scope and vision of the proposed Lokpal were discussed. Out of 40 Basic Principles, we have agreed on 26. Editorial changes were required in case of 7 Principles. On remaining 7 Principles, we agreed for further discussion. There was some divergence of views between the representatives of the Government and the representatives of the Civil Society on the vision and scope of the Lokpal. The six major areas of divergent views were:
1) Should one single Act be provided for both the Lokpal in the Centre and Lokayukt in the State? Would the State Governments be willing to accept a draft provision for the Lokayukt on the same lines as that of the Lokpal?
2) Should the Prime Minister be brought within the purview of the Lokpal? If the answer is in the affirmative, should there be a qualified inclusion?
3) Should judges of the Supreme Court/High Court be brought within the purview of the Lokpal?
4) Should the conduct of Members of Parliament inside Parliament (speaking and voting in the House) be brought within the purview of the Lokpal? (Presently such actions are covered under Article 105(2) of the Constitution).
5) Whether articles 311 and 320 (3)(c) of the Constitution notwithstanding members of a civil service of the Union or an all India service or a civil service of a State or a person holding a civil post under the Union or State, be subject to enquiry and disciplinary action including dismissal/removal by the Lokpal/Lokayukta, as the case may be.
6) What should be the definition of the Lokpal, and should it itself exercise quasi-judicial powers also or delegate these powers to its subordinate officers?
6. On 31st May 2011, I wrote to the Presidents of various political parties and the Chief Ministers of States soliciting their views on the six contentious issues. Responses were received from 25 Chief Ministers and six Party Presidents/Leaders. I would like to quote extract from some of the replies that we received. They are in public domain available as these letters are available on website of Department of Personnel & Training (DoP&T).
· BJP President, Shri Nitin Gadkari, in his letter dated 2nd June 2011 stated and I quote, “Expecting political parties to give their views to a drafting committee comprising of Civil Society representatives for acceptance or otherwise would be upsetting the constitutional propriety where parties, parliamentarians and the Parliament have the last word. They are the decision makers and not suggestion givers….”
· Shri A.B. Bardhan, General Secretary, CPI stated that “as a political party, they will most certainly state their views and suggestions during the discussion on the Bill within the Parliament.”
· Ms. Mayavati, BSP President, expressed her inability to respond to the issues raised as no BSP representative had been included in the discussion of the JDC. She also stated that in parliamentary democracy, the Bill has to be examined by the Parliament and the Standing Committee where detailed discussions are held.
· Prof. Ram Gopal Yadav, National General Secretary, Samajwadi Party, in his letter stated that Government was holding a direct discussion with the so called representatives of the Civil Society in the JDC. On the other hand the leaders of the political parties have been sent a questionnaire. This was not acceptable to the Samajwadi Party and hence they will not send any reply.
7. The JDC concluded its deliberations on 21st June 2011 and both sides exchanged their drafts for the Lokpal Bill. Both these drafts were forwarded to the Government for further action.
8. To solicit the views of various political parties, an all party meeting was convened on 3rd July 2011. During the discussions, the representatives of various political parties emphasized that:
· The supremacy of the Constitution of India has to be maintained. Institutions of democracy cannot be undermined and the checks and balances visualized in the Constitution cannot be adversely affected.
· Laws have to be made by the Parliamentarians who are elected representatives of the country. Few nominated members of the Drafting Committee cannot have precedence over elected members of the Parliament.
9. On the conclusion of this meeting, it was unanimously resolved that “Government should bring before the next session of Parliament a strong and effective Lokpal Bill, following the established procedures”.
10. This meeting was followed by a round of informal consultations with some leaders of the political parties and some of the suggestions received from these leaders were incorporated in the draft Lokpal Bill.
11. In pursuance of the directions of the All Party Meeting, the Government worked on the draft Lokpal Bill prepared by the Joint Drafting Committee and after following the formal process of inter-ministerial consultations and Cabinet approval, the Bill was introduced in Parliament on 4th August 2011.
12. Even before the Bill could be introduced in the Parliament, Shri Anna Hazare’s representatives restarted the agitation by burning copies of the draft Lokpal Bill. Shri Hazare also declared that if the Jan Lokpal Bill is not passed by the Parliament by 15th August 2011, he would proceed on indefinite fast with effect from 16th August 2011.
13. The Prime Minister through his Independence Day address on 15th August, again implored Shri Hazare to abstain from the fast. However, this appeal was ignored.
14. On 16th August 2011, Shri Anna Hazare has again proceeded on fast. In view of his deteriorating health and Government’s increasing concern for Annaji’s condition, Prime Minister wrote a letter to him on 23rd August 2011, making a fervent appeal for ending the fast.
15. To carry the negotiations forward, the Prime Minister directed me and Shri Salman Khursheed to hold discussions with the representatives of Shri Anna Hazare. A meeting was held on 23rd August 2011 and it was clarified to Shri Anna Hazare’s representatives that:
· Lokpal Bill is now before the Standing Committee. All options are open before the Standing Committee to consider not only the Bill introduced by the Government but the Jan Lokpal Bill as well as other versions sent by eminent members of Civil Society.
· In deference to the wish expressed by Annaji, the Government is prepared to request the Speaker Lok Sabha to formally refer the Jan Lokpal Bill to the Standing Committee for their consideration along with everything else.
· About time and speed, the Government can formally request the Standing Committee to try, subject to its discretion, fast tracking their deliberations to the extent feasible.
· I explained to Annaji’s representatives that Lokpal Bill alone cannot root out corruption. We need multi-layered laws to deal with corruption at various levels. In addition to the Lokpal Bill, we are willing to strengthen the Judicial Accountability Bill and the Whistle Blowers Bill. We are also working on a Grievance Redressal Bill to tackle corruption at local level. Inputs of Shri Anna Hazare and his associates will also be taken into consideration.
16. I again asked Annaji’s representatives to convey our earnest request to him to end the fast and give us the space to proceed in the matter.
17. At this stage Annaji’s representatives made the following demands, and I exactly quote, without any editorial comments:
“If the Government can agree to introduce Jan Lokpal Bill (after removing those items on which we have differences) after cleaning by the Law Ministry within four days and also provide a commitment that the Bill will not be referred to the Standing Committee and will be discussed and passed (with minor amendments adopted by Parliament) during this session of the Parliament (even if it is extended), we can then hopefully persuade Annaji to stop this fast.
(Above to be a written commitment with timelines).”
18. About these issues Annaji’s representatives also insisted upon the inclusion of following substantive issues be part of the Jan Lokpal bill:
· Public Grievances and Citizen Charter;
· Lok Ayukta; and
· Lower bureaucracy.
19. At the conclusion of the meeting, Annaji’s representatives were informed that the matter will be discussed with the Prime Minister. The meeting ended at 10.15 PM in the evening. I informed them that it may not be possible for me to take a final call on the issues raised by them and need to consult the Prime Minister on these issues. The Prime Minister was kind enough and called CCPA Meeting at 11.00 PM. I was entrusted to communicate the decisions of CCPA to the representatives of Shri Anna Hazare. Thereafter, All Party meeting was scheduled at 3.30 PM next day and I briefed the All Party meeting about all these developments.
20. At the conclusion of All Party Meeting held on 24th August 2011, the following unanimous resolution was passed.
“This meeting of all political parties in Parliament requests Shri Anna Hazare to end his fast. The meeting was also of the view that due consideration should be given to the Jan Lokpal Bill so that the Final Draft of the Lokpal bill provides for a strong and effective Lokpal which is supported by a broad national consensus.”
21. In a late evening meeting held with Annaji’s representatives on 24th August 2011, I conveyed the inability of the Government to accept the conditions put forward by them on 23rd August 2011.
22. The Prime Minister made a statement in this House on 25th August 2011 reiterating our Government’s commitment to the passage of a strong Lokpal Bill. Prime Minister also stated that he would welcome the Members of this House to discuss the Lokpal Bill before the Standing Committee, the Jan Lokpal Bill as well as other draft Bills and views of members of Civil Society which have been brought to the attention of the Government. I believe that the entire House is committed to the eradication of corruption at all levels.
23. Our Government is committed, therefore, to bring appropriate legislation as well as put in place mechanisms that will reduce discretion and bring transparency in the functioning of public offices as well as take strong measures against those who indulge in corruption. Apart from other issues, the three issues that we need to discuss are:
i) Whether the jurisdiction of the Lokpal should cover all employees of the Central Government?
ii) Whether it will be applicable through the institution of the Lok Ayukt in all States?
iii) Whether the Lokpal should have the power to punish all those who violate the ‘grievance redressal mechanism’ to be put in place?
24. The specific issues raised by Shri Anna Hazare are important. They deserve our serious consideration. In case a consensus emerges at the end of the discussions, the Standing Committee will, in the course of their deliberations, take into account their practicability, implementability and constitutionality. We have to keep in mind for everything that we do, must be consistent with the principles enshrined within our Constitutional framework.
25. I believe that the Government has amply demonstrated that it is sensitive to the common man’s concern about corruption. It has also requested Shri Anna Hazare Ji to give up his fast by assuring him that all issues raised by him will be duly discussed by the Standing Committee when finalizing the Lokpal Bill. We want to end agitation. We have taken oath to abide by the Constitution. So whatever we do has to be within the Constitution. We are at crossroad. It is a rare occasion that proceedings of this House is attracting the attention of entire nation and outside world. I would request the Members to have a dispassionate and objective discussion to find out the solution of the problem without compromising Parliamentary Democracy.
26. I am sure that Members of this House will seize this moment and demonstrate the commitment of the House in dealing with corruption which is gnawing at the vitals of our polity.