Monday, June 06, 2011

Shanti Bhushan's letter to Pranab Mukherjee on Ramdev crackdown and Lokpal Bill

The Chairperson,
Joint Drafting Committee on Lolkpal Bill
North Block, New Delhi

Dear Shri Pranab Mukherjee,

In the last meeting, the government made its stand clear on many critical issues of Jan Lolkpal Bill. This is quite at variance with our stand. On each of these issues, both the sides presented their arguments. In the end, it was not clear how to resolve the stalemate. Recent events since our last meeting don't inspire any confidence that the government is serious enough about the Lokpal bill. Outlined here are few of our key concems and we hope that you would address these with the utmost urgency so we can get the Lokpal Bill back on track to be drafted by 30 June as originally planned.
Who should be under Lokpal? The government desires to keep practically everyone out of Lokpal ambit - PM, horse trading of MPs, middle ond lower bureaucracy, judiciary. There is a divergence even on the vision and model of Lokpal. Our estimates show that if governments stand were accepted, the Lokpal would be left to investigate corruption at about 3000 odd officers and ministers. That is the government's vision for Lokpal.
Views of stakeholders and public consultations: You suggested that the views of Chief Ministers, political parties and the public would be sought on these issues. We were told that the manner in which their views would he sought would be decided in consultation with us. However, we came to know from the media the next day that some questionnaire had already been sent.
The casual and frivolous manner in which this questionnaire has been designed and sent has already been commented upon by several political parties and Chief Ministers. We agree with the concerns raised by them.
We wonder whether in the history of parliamentary democracy, such an objective type questionnaire (to tick mark the right answer from the choices of a, b, c) was ever sent to the Chief Ministers and political parties before drafting any law. We also wonder whether this is on appropriate way of seeking suggestions. We are also surprised that the government hos not considered it appropriate to seek the opinion of the public, even on this casual questionnaire.
We have been insisting right from the first meeting to have serious public consultations with various stakeholders - not to seek their opinion in the form of a survey questionnaire but to do collective brainstorming with them to seek more ideas and opinions. However, the government repeatedly rejected these requests.
The government seems to be shying away from any kind of public debate. I invited you for a public discussion on some of the critical issues affecting Lokpal. Sadly, you turned down my invitation. I firmly believe that a properly structured public debate on these issue televised live where all opinions are presented before the public would go a long way in strengthening our democracy. I again invite you for a debate at a time and place of your choice.
Time is Running Out: We have to draft this law by 30th June. We are yet to finalize the Basic principles of the law, after which the drafting would start. The drafting itself may take a few days. Then we will start discussing each clause of the draft law. This is quite an agenda to be accomplished in the remaining 25 days. In the first two meetings, you assured that if needed, we will meet on a day to day basis in June. Though we do appreciate that senior ministers engaged in these discussions have many other things to attend to, however government cannot go back on its commitment on this critical issue. Developments so far do not inspire confidence that this law will be drafted by 30th June.
Crack Down at Ramlila: At all these developments had raised doubts in our minds whether the government was at all serious in dealing with corruption and having a strong Lokpal Bill. However, what happened on Satuday night at Ramlila Gorunds further strengthened our doubts. Helpless and unarmed people, who were protesting peacefully against corruption, were assaulted without any provocation. Media reports indicate that this was done after government failed to reach an agreement with Swami Ramdev. Is that a sufficient provocation to assault unarmed people in the middle of the night? The high-handed an brutal manner in which the Grounds were evacuated shows that the government was committed to crush the people raising their voice against corruption.
All the above developments have raised very serious doubts about the intentions of the government - is the government really serious in dealing with corruption, especially when the government is facing such severe criticism on account of so many scams?
Government should make its views public on critical issues: In view at the above, we have decided not to attend today's meeting of the Joint Committee. We will send a list of important issues, including the six issues identified by the government by tomorrow. We would urge you to kindly make government's views public on these issues, so that an informed public debate could start on these issues immediately. We hope that you would send us your detailed stand an each of these issues, well in advance before the next meeting.
Next meeting is scheduled for 10th June. Anna Hazare ji has some prior engagements on 9th to 11th June. We would be grateful if the meeting could be rescheduled to any other date.
Yours Sincerely,
(Shanti Bhushan)
Joint Drafting Committee