Lokpal: Par Committee report likely in early Dec

Chandigarh: The Parliamentary panel scrutinising the Lokpal Bill is likely to submit its report early next month and the redrafted legislation will be "far superior" to anything that has been proposed so far, Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid said on Sunday.

"It is before the Standing Committee. We are waiting for the Committee to give report. He (Committee Chairman) has indicated that in the first week of December, they will be able to give the report," Khurshid said while speaking at North Zone Lawyers` Conference on Legal and Electoral Reforms organised by Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee here.

Standing Committee Chairman Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who was among those present, said, "The speed and the direction of the committee are nothing short of a miracle.

"We are hoping to complete our work soon and fast but we refused to give any deadline as it would be unfair to the Committee and its members."

Khurshid said that once the Bill is made available by the Standing Committee, "We will be going around the country talking to all enlightened people saying this Bill is far superior to anything that has been proposed or suggested".

Singhvi said the Committee will start its own internal deliberations from tomorrow. "I hope we will be able to do our job in quickest possible time…but there are more than 15-17 issues like the inclusion of the Prime Minister (etc)..there are strong pro and con arguments and every argument is being looked at".
Singhvi said that majority of issues are those on which "there cannot be any major debate unless one wants to make it political".

The term of the committee was recently extended till December 7. Team Anna which has been campaigning for a strong Lokpal Bill has demanded that the Bill be brought in the Winter Session of Parliament which is scheduled to begin on November 22 and continue till December 23. .

Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said he was hopeful that the Lokpal Bill will be passed in the coming winter session of Parliament.

While making it clear that Government was committed to rooting out corruption and bringing in reforms, the three senior Congress leaders launched a veiled attack on Team Anna, saying nobody can force his way in a democratic set up.

Team Anna had first appeared before the committee in August this year after a 13-day fast by Anna Hazare that month demanding that the Jan Lokpal Bill be passed in the Monsoon Session of Parliament.

Khurshid said the UPA government is "very serious" about tackling the menace of corruption. "I am not saying that we haven`t faltered. I am not saying that we have not had some unpleasant and unhappy examples of people amongst us….Let us not blame only our alliance partners, some even in our own party have faltered and gone wrong. We are human beings and can make mistakes. But there is a system that makes us accountable," he said.

The Law Minister expressed his concern over the "trial by media" in some cases. "You can ask someone (who is charged with doing some wrong) to step down from office, but you can`t condemn them without a proper trial. Unfortunately, too much trials are taking place outside courts. A lawyer first argues the case inside the court room and then in front of the national media, which is unfair," he said.

He said this was continuing despite Supreme Court having warned the media against this. "But I think sufficient amount of sanction has not been imposed upon the people who do that. Reputations are destroyed long before courts come to conclusion in the matter. As a mature nation and mature democracy, we must ensure this doesn`t happen," he said.

"In some media programmes, a person is condemned even without having any chance to reply. Even worst of criminals have right to trial. We don`t just shoot people for some wrong doing…," the Law Minister said. On the demand for `Right to Recall` and `Right to Reject", Khurshid noted that there were "practical difficulties" in introducing them.

He said a great deal of "uncertainty and instability" will creep in the system with Right to Recall and it will thrust elections on the country more often. "People say these are fascist, they don`t want to listen, they must be thrown out… but we have to carefully and thoroughly consider all aspects of this Right to Recall".

On the Right to Reject, the Union Minister said though it appeared to be a simple idea, it too had its pitfalls. "One major problem is that still in many parts of the country, we see people give call to boycott polls. Maoists, Naxalites and we also have disturbed areas of J&K and North East, there somebody can use it part of anti-national propoganda….

"Let us discuss the practical difficulties and see if in phases this (Right to Reject) can be introduced," he said. Bansal also termed Right to Recall as "impractical" while he favoured Right to Reject.

Khurshid while touching upon electoral reforms said that he was "personally" of the view that even the Model Code of Conduct should be given a statutory authority to remove "ambiguity" of being interpreted by the Election Commission from time to time in one way or the other.

He cited how works such as construction of toilets for the poor gets stalled for months simply because the model code is in force. "We may need to examine whether this should be permissible or not (whether such works should halt in view of the Code)…. There are some good things in the Model Code, but there are some things we need to carefully examine".

He also said that while at present different list of voters for Parliament and assemblies exists, the Centre wants to make it one list. Both Khurshid and Bansal gave a thumbs down to opinion polls, which they felt are "not conducted in a scientific manner and are impractical in a society as diverse in nature as ours".

"Yesterday, I saw an opinion poll on TV which said 99.9 per cent people in Amethi (constituency of Rahul Gandhi) will not vote for that MP if he does not support the Jan Lokpal Bill. I am not naming that MP nor naming the person who did that opinion poll…. I leave it to your intelligence (to draw your own inferences)," he told the gathering

Khurshid also said that they were looking at technologies available so that candidates may not come to know from which pockets people have voted against them. He, however, added that this was something which will need to have consensus among political parties.

He also talked about reforms that will keep persons convicted of heinous crimes away from contesting polls, but added this proposal too will need consensus among parties. On the legal reforms, he said judges themselves are bound by a code of ethics and what the Government was trying to do is to give a statutory form to it.

Khurshid, however, said that the larger issue remains on how the judges are to be appointed. "More consultations on this are needed. We are talking to a number of retired eminent judges. We are also talking to a lot of sitting judges so that we come to an idea what is the best way how judges can be appointed," he said, adding that in UK they have made far reaching changes, which were also being looked at.

On the Collegium system of judges appointment, he said, "In India, we do believe it has to be made more transparent". He also asserted that while reforms have to be there, it has to be ensured that these do not come in the way of judiciary`s independence.

On the bills that are in the pipeline, the Law Minister said the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill will be taken up first. During the next session, he also hoped that the Bill relating to high value commercial cases will be passed so that cases of such nature are disposed of in a fast track mode and in a time-bound manner.

He also stressed upon the need to tackle pendency of cases in various courts across the country and to meet the shortage of the judges, with Uttar Pradesh alone having 100 vacancies in the High Court level and Punjab and Haryana High Court having 23.

Later answering questions on "Uncle Judges", he said recommendations from the Chief Justice of India in this regard keep coming from time to time. When asked if there was any such recommendation in recent times, he said, "Yes, there is something in the pipeline".

He also said that in some cases judges seek time before being transferred out citing personal reasons and the courts normally accommodate such requests. Asked whether any Constitutional amendment was in the offing on the Lokpal Bill, he said it would be premature to say anything on this now.

He, however, said that a recommendation to this effect had come from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
"In principle, we agree with this, but there is a process which is underway," he said. Earlier, Khurshid targeted Team Anna. "When somebody says people of India are superior and above Parliament, in a sense it is true..Parliament is elected by people of India, but people of India cannot change the Constitution," he said, adding constitution was a contract between the people themselves and those who are elected by them.

"Even changes in the Constitution have to be limited so that its basic structure is not altered…. I also think it is wrong to say people are superior to Parliament because Parliament has been made superior by the people themselves," he said.

Khurshid said that Government was firm on tackling corruption, but it has to be careful and ensure that a structure created to deal with the menace itself does not become another breeding ground for it.

"We cannot create another corrupt structure to deal with corruption. We have to create structure that will deal with the menace and not create more avenues (to breed corruption)," he said.