THE CHAIRMAN of the Standing Committee of Parliament that has drafted the new version of the Lokpal Bill, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, talks to Revati Laul and Atul Chaurasia about the blood, sweat and tears that went into its writing and why he thinks this Bill is the most effective draft yet.
Excerpts From An Interview
Let’s go over some of the main ideas that went into the making of this draft, the criteria you used to steer the committee on the drafting of the new Lokpal.
Let’s look at two or three things. One is extraordinary timelines: two-and-a-half months. We’ve had 144 witnesses over 15-16 meetings. Of over 40 hours, 10 were with Team Anna alone. Twenty-five issues. It’s a complex mix of politics, legality, technicality, external environment, of 31 members representing 14-odd parties, so it was a massive job. We believe we have taken out the strongest report yet. It is by no means, in any remote way, a government report Bill. It is not a ‘khichri’ of a government model or a Jan Lokpal model or an NCPRI model.
It’s very unfair in a democracy if the object of the exercise is to rubberstamp one version. If they will blow up or go on a fast then why have a parliamentary committee at all, or even a Parliament? The approach has to be different. There has to be an understanding of a contrary viewpoint.
How were the meetings with Team Anna?
They were very intense, very comprehensive. And extremely cordial. Each issue was discussed thoroughly.
Team Anna is threatening again to go on agitation if their demands are not met and are talking of sticking to an overall ‘sense of the House’ that was submitted to them in August.
Parliament had a debate that Pranab Mukherjee summarised in five lines. The summary states the sense of the House must be implemented through appropriate mechanisms. And we’re doing that. We will, of course, not produce a draft that doesn’t reflect the sense of the House. In any case, it is not the business of the Standing Committee of Parliament to fulfill all the whims and fancies of the Jan Lokpal team.
Even the ‘sense of the House’ presented to Team Anna at the closing of the last Parliament session talked about including the lower bureaucracy within the ambit of the Lokpal… but now there’s talk of that being excluded.
The note says an appropriate mechanism will be introduced. Where, in the note on ‘the sense of the House’, does it say that the lower bureaucracy must be introduced in one particular way into the Lokpal Bill? That’s a misreading.
‘If you see closely, you will see a lot of creativity has been exercised in the draft Lokpal Bill’
On the question of whether the CBI should come under the Lokpal for investigating corruption cases: How has this been dealt with?
When you read the draft, you will see a lot of creativity has been exercised here. There is, in particular, a clause that clearly makes the CBI truly independent. We have also put in mechanisms that make investigation and prosecution under the Lokpal much more effective.
As a Congress leader and spokesperson, it seems to the public that there have been divergent views within the party on the Lokpal — whether to include the PM or not, for instance.
The honourable prime minister once lightheartedly said: I am fully subject to being over-ruled by my own Cabinet. He is an individual. This is an institutional issue. Institutionally, we have to see what can create instability in the future.
Is there a lot invested in this Bill for you personally, since your father LM Singhvi coined the word Lokpal in 1963?
It is an amazing coincidence, defying the laws of probability, that 60 years after a man coins a word, his son is involved with its drafting. There is a providential coincidence and so in that sense it does weigh on my mind, yes.
Politically speaking, this is an issue that has dictated the course of this entire year and will spill over next year into state elections. How important is it for the Congress to try and be seen as taking the people’s view on the Lokpal?
I don’t see any reason for the Congress, or the Standing Committee, or for politicians in general, or for the collectivity of Parliament to be defensive about any law which they pass. I can tell you that whatever version is going to emerge from Parliament will be the strongest version ever. As elections come next year, I think the Congress is a party that can stand with its chest out and head high that it’s done a jolly good job.
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.