When the Delhi Janlokpal Bill 2015 was tabled on 20 November in the Delhi Assembly it was a nostalgic moment for Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Kejriwal had in fact tweeted in a lighter vein: “Feel nostalgic when I see this picture. We had burnt government’s ‘jokepal’ at that time.” However, even before the introduction of the anti-graft bill in the Assembly there was a flurry of criticism from several quarters. Though the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) firmly backs the Bill, the Opposition BJP and Swaraj Abhiyan leaders Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan have been very dismissive of the Bill.
However, the support of Anna Hazare could not have come at a more opportune time for the Kejriwal government. AAP leaders Kumar Vishwas and Sanjay Singh who met Hazare said he was apprehensive of the Centre’s intention to block the Bill. He also said the government had his full backing on the anti-graft legislation.
While introducing the Bill in the Assembly, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said that it was “historic event” as it is “the strongest anti-corruption law of independent India.”
There was a lot of drama before the Bill got tabled in the house: the forced eviction of BJP MLA Vijender Gupta from the Assembly and the arrest of Swaraj Abhiyan leaders such as Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, who were protesting outside the Assembly.
Two days before the introduction of the Janlokpal, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan termed the current draft as “mahajokepal”. In a joint statement they said that the Bill is designed in a way so as not to be cleared by the central government, so that Kejriwal can claim that the Centre is playing spoilsport. They also said that there is a dirty political game being played out between the AAP and the BJP in the name of Lokpal.
Slamming Kejriwal, Yadav said that the Delhi cm has defeated the 2011 anti-corruption movement led by Hazare.
The contentious clauses are the appointment of the Janlokpal and its members, the process of their removal, jurisdiction, investigation, prosecution and provision against malafide complaints.
The BJP also accused Kejriwal of attempting to create an altercation with the central government. Leader of Opposition (LOP) in the Delhi Assembly Vijender Gupta tells Tehelka, “It is merely a political document which will not take the shape of an Act. We want a strong Lokpal for Delhi. Hence, we will propose few amendments so that the Bill at least fulfills the basic criteria of legality.”
He further said that if those amendments are accepted then they will try their best to get the Centre’s nod. Lampooning the Bill, BJP MLA OP Sharma tells Tehelka, “It is a joker’s (Kejriwal) jokepal.” Interestingly, the Congress, which does not have a representation in the Assembly has extended its support to the legislation.
The Bill in question defines corruption as laid down in the Prevention of Corruption Act. The three member committee, comprising of a chairman and two members, will look into complaints of alleged corruption by any citizen and officials. It can also take cases suo motu.
Interestingly, section 3 (1) A of the Bill says that the selection committee of the Janlokpal will consist of four members— the Delhi High Court Chief Justice as its head and the chief minister, the LOP and the speaker of the house. This had attracted a lot of criticism from the Opposition. Gupta said that this will lead to a huge political influence on the Janlokpal as three out of four members have a political background.
A comparison of the present Bill with the previous one introduced by the AAP during its 49 days of rule the first time it came into power, which had a provision for seven members in the selection committee, explains the reasons behind the opposition. It had only two political representatives ie the CM and the LOP. Other members included two judges from the high court, one chairperson from the previous Janlokpal and two eminent personalities, who could be retired judges of the apex court and the high court, army, navy or air force personnel.
Contesting the elimination of two eminent personality clauses from the selection committee, a Delhi Government source said that the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) judgment is behind such a move where the Supreme Court had questioned such a premise. This was reiterated in the House.
Section 6 of the Bill lays down the removal process under which the chairperson or Janlokpal member can be dismissed from the post only if the order, routed through the Lieutenant Governor (LG), is passed by a two-third majority in the House. Sisodia termed it as a process of “impeachment”. It is to be noted that unlike the real process of impeachment where it needs the President’s consent, over here the voting will be binding on the LG. “Aren’t they eliminating the LG’s and president’s role by proposing such legislation?” asks BJP MLA OP Sharma.
“Janlokpal may proceed to inquire into the allegations of ‘corruption’ in the National Capital Territory of Delhi,” says Section 7 of the Bill. This can lead to a certain face-off with the Centre, as all public servants, including the central government, will come under the jurisdiction of Janlokpal. Constitutional expert SK Sharma says that such jurisdiction is unreasonable as it extends to everything in the Delhi NCT, even railway employees. “This is an attempt to control and pressurise the Central government by a government of the Union Territory,” says SK Sharma.