Govt says it has open mind on Lokpal Bill

New Delhi: On the eve of the maiden meeting of the 10-member Joint Committee on Saturday to draft the Lokpal Bill, Government on Friday said it has an open mind on the issue.

"The meeting is taking place tomorrow. We are going there with an open mind. The government, civil society and common people – all have one target that there should be greater transparency and responsibilities should be clearly fixed in the bill," Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, who is on the panel, told reporters here.

His statement came a day after activist and committee co-chairman Anna Hazare said that the bill proposed by the civil society will not cover higher judiciary and that their representatives in the drafting committee would be "flexible".

"When we take the bill before Parliament, it should be endorsed and passed," Khurshid said here on the sidelines of a function to kickstart on-line registration for scholarship programmes for minorities.

Sources in the government said that "nothing big" can be expected in the first meeting of the committee comprising government and civil society representatives but voiced hope that ice will melt after three or four rounds.

Asked whether the government will concede demands that MPs should also be allowed to give their suggestions to the committee, Khurshid said, "Nobody has stopped anybody from airing his views."

The minister also disapproved of political parties raking up issues related to the proposed Bill, saying it would be better if comments are made only after an outline on the bill emerges.

"Otherwise if we keep on discussing in the meeting who said what, I do not think this is going to make the main job any easier," he said.

Khurshid also dismissed suggestions that the government "surrendered" before the civil rights activists by agreeing to the joint committee after an agitation led by Hazare who went on an hunger strike to press their demand for wider powers to the Ombudsman to check corruption.

He parried a question on whether the alleged underpayment of stamp duty by lawyer Shanti Bhushan for his house in Allahabad was not ironical as he is now part of a committee to draft an anti-corruption bill.

"This is not a comprehensive MRI scan on whole body for each one of us…. All of us are subject to public scrutiny, public pronouncements and public judgements. If you are in public life and do anything which is associated with public institutions then you have to be willing and ready for it.

"Lawyers know this more than the rest. Let public scrutiny happen. But today the job is something else. It has nothing to do with Income Tax, our fight with an individual or our personal feelings. Today we have to see what we can find as a best solution, which is acceptable to all," Khurshid said.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, meanwhile, has rubbished news reports regarding alleged evasion of stamp duty to the government in the registration of the sale deed for the plot and the house.

"Far from it, we ourselves have approached the appropriate authority for determination of the stamp duty to be paid to the government for registration of the sale deed for the plot and the building," he told PTI.

To repeated questions on whether Shanti Bhushan and his son Prashant should withdraw themselves from the committee, Khurshid said, "Our cabinet has taken a decision that this group of ten persons chaired by senior leader Pranab Mukherjee will try to find a solution to it. I should not say anything beyond this."

Khurshid added that the focus of the committee is to find the best way in which corruption in high places can be effectively tackled.

"Civil society coming with this proposal (for Joint Committee) is just the beginning towards an end. I do not think anyone believes that the struggle and the fight against corruption is an easy and simple thing. It`s complicated and long drawn out thing and we are making some movement forward.

"Congress President has given us some ideological direction. Prime Minister has given to this country very serious commitment and we have been told you have to find a reasonable solution, which is acceptable to people at large," Khurshid said.