16 Apr : The joint drafting committee on Lokpal Bill Saturday had its first meeting when civil society representatives presented a new draft of the legislation to the government with both sides expressing hope that the new law will be brought in Monsoon session of Parliament.
The 90-minute meeting chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and co-chaired by eminent lawyer Shanti Bhushan was audio-recorded and not videographed as demanded by the civil society activists.
HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, one of the five ministers nominated to the committee, said after the meeting that both the sides were keen that the new Bill should be introduced in the Monsoon session, which begins early July. The next meeting of the ten-member committee will be held on 2nd May. Sibal said both sides presented their perspective on the proposed legislation. The latest draft presented by the civil society representatives had “significant” proposals, he added.
The Minister said the entire meeting was audio-recorded and whenever decisions are taken they would be made public.
He said the committee would discuss the draft provided by the activists along with the draft cleared by the Standing Committee which would be circulated.
The new draft presented by the civil society is believed to have amended an earlier provision relating to the selection committee to choose Lokpal and its members.
Under the new proposal, Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have replaced Rajya Sabha Chairman and Lok Sabha Speaker as proposed in the old draft.
Sibal said the next meeting will decide on the modality of public consultations on the legislation. Another Minister, who attended the meeting, said the new draft presented by the civil society was “better” than the last one and it includes better provisions on safeguard mechanism.
He said the government was ready to discuss anything but “time was short” to conduct public consultations.
A member from the civil society in the panel said the government had not agreed to publicise the audio-tapes of though they have agreed to make public the minutes of the meeting.
Government sources said audio recordings of all meetings is done and there was nothing new in it. However, they said audio-recordings will not be shared and only minutes of the meetings will be shared.
Prashant Bhushan, one of the members in the panel from the civil society side, said all concerned organisations will be consulted as part of the public consultations through websites and regional consultations.
The actual modalities will be decided in the next meeting, he said. He said India is a signatory of the UN Convention against Corruption which is in the process of being ratified.
The Convention requires an independent Lokpal for which an adequate Bill will be made through discussions.”The fundamental principles will be decided in the next meeting. After that there would be meetings every week, may be more than one day if required, to complete the work,” Bhushan said.
Anna Hazare, who led the campaign that forced the government to agree to the constitution of the joint committee and who is a member of the committee, said the meeting went off well. “It is because of you we achieved this success,” he told the media.