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Lokpal issue going to Parliament


June 16, 2011 - New Delhi

Barring the ceremonies, the talks between the government and Anna Hazare's team of negotiators on the draft of the proposed Lokpal Bill are practically over. There is no agreement on whether the Prime Minister and the higher judiciary, including the Chief Justice of India (CJI), should be brought under the purview of the Lokpal or not.

These differences are irreconcilable. The government seems to have drawn a line on the two issues, making it clear that it cannot change the constitutional scheme of things to accommodate the demands of Hazare and his team.

It looks like two draft bills are emerging from the joint committee's deliberations - one prepared by Pranab Mukherjee and his team and the other by Anna Hazare's team.

The joint drafting committee might have another meeting or so, but it is certain that the two separate drafts will go to the Union Cabinet for a decision. The Cabinet will reject demands for an extension of the Lokpal's jurisdiction to the offices of the Prime Minister and the CJI. The cabinet-approved bill will be presented to Parliament during the monsoon session.

There is also a vital question relating to judicial review. How can the Lokpal judgdement be final? The affected person, has under the Constitution, the right to appeal to the Supreme court against the verdict of the Lokpal, who cannot be presumed to be always infallible.

Any dilution of judicial review undercuts the judiciary's authority, as also the citizen's right to appeal against a questionable verdict of the Lokpal. In other words, the Lokpal cannot be made superior to the Supreme court. Any alteration on this account will affect the basic structure of the Constitution, which the court has ruled cannot be altered.

It remains to be seen what Anna Hazare will do next to give another life to his campaign against corruption. Corruption as well as fasting by Anna and Ramdev have consumed some of the Centre's energy during the last several weeks.

Not that corruption is going to be eliminated in the near future, but the government has been given some breathing space to think of ways to tackle it without being pressured by a Gandhian and a Sadhu in saffron.

This is mainly because Hazare, backed by his team, pitched his demands too high, which no government, irrespective of its political dispensation, could have accepted.

Most political parties have criticized the government for having left the drafting of the bill to negotiations within the joint drafting committee. They have pointed out that the bill and its passage is the function of parliament and not unelected representatives.

The government team led by Pranab Mukherjee, has also received replies from several state governments, including those ruled by non-Congress parties.

Many of them have refused to comment on the proposed draft on the grounds that it was too premature for them to do so. They want the government to come out with its final draft before they comment on it.

The chief ministers' replies suit the government. It cannot, however, afford to underestimate the intensity of public resentment against corruption which is corroding the entire political system. By H K Dua

ANI

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