In an exclusive interview with Sify.com on the eve of the third meeting of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, Karnataka Lokayukta and a member of the civil society, Justice Santosh Hegde speaks about the meetings held so far, issues that could cause friction within the joint drafting committee, and, with characteristic humour and irreverence, explains the finer points of the provisions in the proposed draft.
When you last spoke to us, a few months ago, you spoke of how the Lokpal Bill has been pending for over four decades. Are you surprised at the sudden momentum in this direction?
I`m not surprised. I expected it in the sense that every government wants to prove that it is more honest than the previous government. Right? Therefore, they make a sham attempt to create the institution called Lokpal.
And it has been attempted seven times before, in 42 years. The first Lokpal draft Bill was prepared in 1968, and in between, intermittently, they are preparing it.
But it`s not been brought before the Parliament. They generally give an impression to the people that they are very serious about creating this institution of Lokpal.
Are you optimistic this time round, or do you think it`s yet another sham attempt?
This time, for the first time, the civil society has become involved, and so there is a sort of pressure on the government to have a Bill which is not only for namesake, but also an effective one.
Because of Anna Hazare, the government has had to involve the members of the civil society also in the discussion. We have already met twice, and three more meetings are scheduled before the 30th of May.
And I`m optimistic that the Bill will come, but the question is, in what form? Because we can only discuss, and beyond that, we cannot do anything about it.
But the response that was shown to Anna Hazare`s movement, I`m sure, has had some effect on the government; therefore, it will not be a skeletal Bill. We`ve drafted a Bill which we`re using for the purpose of our input, and we`ll also persuade the government to draft a proper Bill.
At the press conference after the second meeting, there seemed to be a lot more harmony between the two sections of the draft committee. Has there been a definite, conscious move in this direction, or is it that everyone has reconciled themselves to the situation?
Well, I think that`s happened after a statement was released by Mr. Pranab Mukherjee just on the eve of the second meeting.
You know, before that, all sorts of dirt was being thrown on the members of the Jan Lokpal committee to denigrate them, and it had created some sort of a friction. But that statement of Mr. Pranab Mukherjee has cleared the air quite a bit.
But I must say that from both the meetings now, nothing substantive has been achieved. The relations have been very cordial, and we hope the cordiality will continue when arguments on the exchange of views also takes place.
As you put it, a lot of dirt was thrown on the civil society members. You yourself came close to resigning, and people were calling for the Bhushans` resignation too. Do you think, as a unit, a panel that puts dignity ahead of power is equipped to deal with politicians, whose entire profession is built around manipulation and tactical moves?
Well, let me tell you it was a deliberate attempt, there`s no doubt about that, and right now, the atmosphere is somewhat cleared because we have not heard anything since the last provocation which caused me to say I will resign.
But, they have been able to divide the civil society. There are various views being expressed by members of the civil society, asking why only these five have been chosen, why not someone else, and that too, some people have some stigma attached to them and all that, knowing very well that these are all campaigns that started after the committee was announced.
The fact that the committee will be announced, and the committee will go ahead and have discussion with the government was known at least ten days before this vilification campaign started.
More so, the Bill was being drafted sometime in February-March, and it was well known that some group of society is preparing a draft Bill. Then, most probably, most of the active civil society groups felt `why should we get into it?` But when Anna Hazare`s fast changed the whole complexion, I think some differences have risen in the civil society, because of some motivation on various sides We are hoping to get everybody possible into the discussion, and then put our views before the government, and then let us see what will happen.
Are you satisfied with the constitution of the panel? You were asking for the Leader of the Opposition to have a place in the drafting committee, and that demand was turned down. Well, this is the stage of just drafting the Bill. It`ll go to Joint Parliamentary Committee, where Leaders of the Opposition and other members of the Parliament, chosen by the Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman will discuss it. Thereafter it will go to the regular Parliament and both the Houses, where there will be open discussion. So it isn`t a problem.
So would you say you`re satisfied with the government`s attitude to the formation of the committee?
Our grievance is that it was projected as if the group of civil society people are hijacking the legislative system itself by drafting a Bill and holding a gun to the head of the Parliament, saying "You approve this Bill." No.
The reason is this - you see, what is the purpose of having a democratic system which applies to even legislature? They are the people`s voice, isn`t it? Those who represent us in Parliament are representing the constituents.
Now, normally when an important issue comes up for discussion before the Parliament, it used to be the old parliamentary practice for the elected members to talk to the constituents - maybe not all, but at least those who are interested in having a discussion. They carried their views and presented it before the Parliament.
Today, neither does the Member of Parliament meet his voters, nor does he himself talk to Parliament. On the 23rd of December 2008, 17 Bills were passed in 12 minutes without discussion. What this indicates is that there is no true legislature practice at all. These are bulldozing tactics of the government, and being in Opposition or otherwise, you allow this to go through! And the same thing would have happened here because the ruling party members, as well as the members of the opposition are hurt by this Bill. Therefore we said, `look here, you just listen to us at least. My representative is not listening to me; at least you listen to us. We are not saying whatever we feel should be accepted. You place it before the Parliament and let them discuss it.`
We can let the public know what the government`s proposal is, what the proposal of the people`s group is, and what has been decided by the government. So let the people at least know what is happening. That is our attempt, nothing more than that.
Image: Justice Santosh Hegde arrives for the first meeting of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee at North Block in New Delhi on April 16. (Photograph copyright PTI)