Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan tells Kunal Majumder that the Centre is probably stonewalling on the Lokpal Bill
Why did you call the 30 May meeting of the Lokpal Bill joint drafting committee ‘quite disastrous’?
For the first time, major contentious issues were discussed and the government’s response was negative on virtually all of them. They said the prime minister should not be included, the judiciary should not be included, the MPs’ conduct inside Parliament should not be included, nor should government servants below a certain level. That leaves only a small section, i.e., ministers and senior civil servants. Kapil Sibal even said that the armed forces should not be included. Then what is the point of the Lokpal?
But why did you issue such a strong statement? Differences of opinion are bound to occur.
The government representatives reacted in virtually the same way on all issues. We were surprised. For example, the PM was included in the government’s original Lokpal Bill. Now they are saying he should not be included. They are using some dissenting voices within the civil society. But such views are hardly shared by even two percent of the people. It appears that the government is trying to buy some time or stonewall the Bill. We told them that the PM is not immune from any anti-corruption investigation. He can be investigated only by the CBI but the problem is that the CBI is controlled by the PM. The objective of this Lokpal Bill was to set up an anti-corruption investigation agency that is independent of the government.
Doesn’t the government have a point when it says that action or voting rights of MPS inside the House are protected by the Constitution?
No. In fact, Article 105 only says that no MP shall be questioned on his vote, which doesn’t mean that he can’t be questioned on a bribe he has taken for voting in Parliament.
According to media reports, Baba Ramdev has suggested the PM and CJI should be kept outside the Lokpal’s purview.
I completely doubt if he would say such a thing. If he is campaigning against corruption, how can he say that the PM has to be kept outside the Lokpal purview? It’s absurd.
Kapil Sibal says that the Lokapl Bill has to be consistent with the Constitution. Have you or any of the civil society representatives suggested otherwise?
My father (Shanti Bhushan) asked them this precise question. Which provision of the Constitution is being violated by this Bill? They couldn’t point to anything. They raised concerns of legislative privileges under Article 105. But that only means freedom to vote freely, that doesn’t mean you can take a bribe.
Now the government says it wants to consult all political parties and state governments. Is this a delaying tactic?
Probably they are seeking ways to stall the Bill or think this is a bad time. I don’t know what they have in mind.
You said that the government’s intentions are suspect. Are you saying that it isn’t serious about the Bill?
That’s the indication we got during the meeting. But it is also not correct to say they have not agreed to do anything that is not important. They have agreed on a lot of important things like the Lokpal will have full financial and functional autonomy, it will have an investigative arm of its own and that it can at least probe ministers and civil servants. So to that extent, they have agreed. That is something, but still we were taken aback by the response on key issues.
Kunal Majumder is a Correspondent with Tehelka.