'No Bill should bypass Parliament'

Interview

Union law minister M Veerappa Moily, actively associated with talks both at the government as well as civil activists’ level on the Lokpal Bill, provides insights in an interview with B S Arun of Deccan Herald. Excerpts:

Anna Hazare has attributed his indefinite fast to the government’s non-responsiveness?

In a democracy, every action has to go through a procedure. Institutions like cabinet and Parliament cannot be circumvented. The prime minister did constitute a committee (headed by Defence minister A K Antony) and we met Hazare and others on March 28.

They wanted a joint committee to be set up before April 4. The government always said we have an open mind but he still resorted to fast.

Is issuing notification a bad precedent? It can spawn pressure groups?

Both the demands - for a joint committee and notification - are unprecedented. We never shied away from discussion. We have consulted civil society groups earlier. Draft bills pertaining to rural employment programme, Prevention of Corruption Act etc went through consultations with various groups although they were not formal committees.
We were transparent all through.

The draft Lokpal Bill that the government has prepared was arrived at after consultation. It was circulated among ministries, we consulted judges including retired ones. We had given ourselves 60 days time for introducing it in Parliament from the day the Group of Ministers took it up. We will introduce it in the monsoon session. This too we made clear to the Hazare group. In fact, we would have brought it to Parliament even without their pressure.

Hazare calls the official Bill weak?

If it was weak, we would have strengthened it following consultation. Even the National Advisory Council is looking into it and it consists of civil society activists.

Doesn’t the Jan Lokpal Bill bypass democratic process with some of its proposals such as selection of the Lokpal, which includes everyone but the government?

Whatever the draft Bill, ultimately it has to pass through Parliament. You cannot bypass democratic process. They have to  be reasonable. They want even judiciary to be brought under Lokpal scrutiny. Hazare cannot keep on recalling what happened over 40 years. This government has taken a lot of steps in curbing corruption.

The Bill’s journey so far
The Lokpal Bill has had a chequered history. It has been in the works for over 50 years! The concept of a Lokpal was thrown up in the 1960s by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. A Bill drafted in 1966 proposed that a Lokpal would be set up at the Centre and Lok Ayuktas in states.

It was introduced in 1968 in Lok Sabha for the first time. It was an aborted venture – the draft legislation died a natural death as LS was dissolved.

The story was repeated at different points of time over the next 30 years:

* Bill was revived in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2008.
*  Each revival was in vain as Lok Sabha got dissolved or its term came to an end.
*  In 2010, a new effort began with civil society activists coming forward to draft an alternative Bill. This draft - Jan Lokpal Bill — was prepared by activists of India Against Corruption under the guidance of Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan. Many other popular activists were also involved. Later in the year, as a series of scams hit the beleaguered UPA government, it prepared a new draft of the Lokpal Bill.

-BSA

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