Telecom and HRD minister Kapil Sibal emerged as the government’s pointsman on the Lokpal bill, when it was engaged in hard negotiations with the Anna Hazare’s team during the past two months. He spoke to HT about this unique experience and the road ahead :
After having been a part of the nine meetings during the past two months, what has been your experience ?
I think the entire exercise has been exceptionally useful and at the end of the day we now have the broad contours of a bill. There are substantial takeways and significant departures from the previous laws. We have been able to give to the Lokpal an independent investigating and prosecuting agency. There are many other salient features, and of course there are elements on which we did not agree.
But Anna Hazare and his team have termed the talks as a failure and he has announced his fast from August 16 ?
The government agreed to whatever was possible within the constitutional framework and our draft marks a significant departure from the earlier draft based on majority of their inputs. Beyond this I would not like to comment.
One major point of disagreement is the exclusion of the PM from the Lokpal’s purview. The criticism would be that the government doesn’t want to make the PM accountable ?
The PM is certainly accountable under the existing laws but we are opposed to bringing the PM under an institution outside the system. We are living in a very disturbed neighbourhood. We saw the 26/11 attacks, where many decisions were to be taken on the spot. Terrorist attacks are a real threat. In such situations the PM can’t be expected to be thinking about what view the Lokpal will take.
Corruption in higher judiciary is increasingly becoming a major cause for concern. What is the harm in allowing the Lokpal to probe cases of corruption against judges ?
We are very serious about tackling corruption in all spheres including judiciary, but the constitution has provided for complete autonomy to the judiciary. There is an in-built mechanism to tackle this problem and the question is whether it is sufficient. We need to bring a strong judicial accountability bill.
But the counter argument of Hazare’s team is that your version of the bill will only strengthen government control over appointment, removal and deciding funds for the Lokpal?
Completely wrong. Isn’t the Supreme Court independent? The same procedure will be followed here for Lokpal. Has the government ever said no to the CJI whenever he has asked for the funds? Let us be clear on facts.
But what is wrong in allowing the Lokpal to decide about its own finances ?
We are strongly in favour of that, but we have to go according to the Constitution. They say 0.25% of the GDP should be provided for the functioning of Lokpal. What is being talked about. Let me tell you that the entire amount spent on research by public and private sector for science and technology is 0.8% of the GDP.
Hazare team says the government does not want a strong Lokpal ?
The government wants a very strong Lokpal, but they are not understanding that in their version the Lokpal is not accountable to anybody. This is a unique case of a sui generis institution outside the constitution answerable to nobody. I don’t think anywhwere in the world this kind of a structure is acceptable.