New Delhi: Affirming government’s commitment to enact Lokpal Act that will provide for a strong and effective way to tackle corruption in high places, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said such an institution will have to work within the framework of Constituation.
He told the all-party meeting on Lokpal Bill that strong laws to tackle corruption were a necessary but these would not suffice as there was a need to focus on “simplifying procedures, reducing discretion, eliminating arbitrariness and increasing transparency in the way government functions.”
Singh noted that there was a feeling that institutional arrangements in place are not strong enough to ensure that the guilty, especially those occupying high positions, are brought to book swiftly and given deterrent punishment.
“I must make it clear at the outset that we, in government, are committed to the enactment of a Lokpal Act, which provides for a strong, effective and quick institutional arrangement for tackling corruption in high places,” he said in his opening remarks at the meeting.
“We are also committed to bringing the bill before Parliament in the coming Monsoon Session,” he said.
Apparently acknowledging concerns over certain demands by the civil society which are considered to be creating a “parallel structure”, Singh emphasised that “the institution of the Lokpal has to work in harmony with other institutions and laws and it has to function within the framework of the basic structure of our Constitution.”
He said the Lokpal will have “to add to and not detract from the legitimate role and authority of other institutions in our democratic structure.”
Underlining that the Constitution provides for an “intricate system of checks and balances”, he said the new institution of Lokpal has to find an appropriate place in that matrix.”
Singh’s comments assume significance as the Anna Hazare team has been pushing for bringing all institutions, including the Prime Minister and higher judiciary, under the purview of Lokpal. The government sees this as an attempt to create a structure parallel to the government.
The Prime Minister asserted, “we have to keep in mind that whatever arrangement we propose has to be for the larger good of our society and our country.”
Admitting that “corruption is a major issue today” about which “there is no doubt”, he said it has been the experience that whenever “institutional changes have been made, both the opportunity for and the incidence of corruption have been reduced dramatically.”
Singh said the government was “focussed on this process and we propose to pursue this with vigour and speed.”
He pointed out that there were legal and institutional arrangements in place to tackle corruption like the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the Central Vigilance Commission Act and the Right to Information Act which empower citizens to have access to information and which provide for stringent action against delinquents.
The enactment of a strong Lokpal Bill has attracted a lot of attention during the past few months, he said and referred to setting up of a joint drafting committee consisting of five Union ministers and five nominees of Hazare including he himself.
“While considerable progress was achieved in evolving a consensus on many issues, a few important issues remain on which there is a divergence in our views and those of the nominees of Shri Anna Hazare,” the Prime Minister said and pointed out that these had been brought out in papers circulated to the leaders of political parties at the meeting.
Explaining the reason behind convening the all-party meet, the Prime Minister said it was important the institution of Lokpal enjoys the support of as large a section of people as possible and that there is the widest possible consensus regarding the bill.
The meeting was attended by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Union ministers Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, M Veerappa Moily, Salman Khurshid and Pawan Kumar Bansal.
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel (both NCP), and T R Baalu (DMK) were among UPA constituents to attend the deliberations.
From the Opposition parties, the meeting was attended by BJP veteran L K Advani, Leaders of Opposition Sushma Swaraj (Lok Sabha) and Arun Jaitley (Rajya Sabha), NDA Convenor and JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, S S Dhindsa (SAD), Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), Gurudas Dasgupta and D Raja (both CPI), Lalu Prasad (RJD) and V Maitreyan and M Thambidurai (both AIADMK).
S C Mishra (BSP) and Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) was also present.
Among the contentious issues over which consensus was sought to be built at the meeting were bringing within the ambit of Lokpal the PM, higher judiciary, MPs’ conduct inside Parliament, CBI’s anti-corruption wing and lower bureaucracy across the country, and the panel for selecting the ombudsman.