Civil society seeks referendum on PM in Lokpal’s ambit


Bangalore: Civil society members on a joint Lokpal bill drafting committee favour a referendum on the differences with the government over the inclusion of the prime minister and the higher judiciary under the proposed anti-corruption law, lawyer and panel member Prashant Bhushan said Sunday.

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“We will seek a referendum on the issues such as inclusion of the prime minister and the higher judiciary in the Lokpal (ombudsman) in about 10 parliamentary constituencies, including those of central ministers Kapil Sibal and M. Veerappa Moily who are on the joint panel,” he said at a programme organised by NGO Jana Sangrama Parishad here.

Contesting the stand of the government representatives on the contentious issue, Bhushan said to exclude the office of the prime minister from the Lokpal was against the basic principles of the constitution, as a corrupt prime minister was a grave threat to the country.

“As the head of the government, the prime minister leads the country and should be above board. In case of a serious graft complaint against such a high office, the incumbent should be investigated by an anti-corruption body,” he asserted.

On the non-inclusion of higher judiciary in the government’s draft bill, Bhushan said the official view that judges were competent to deal with the graft charges in the judiciary may not necessarily lead to unbiased and impartial judgments.

“We have suggested that all public servants, including judges in the Supreme Court and the various high courts should be brought under the ambit of the Lokpal so that no official howsoever higher is above the law,” he said.

Though the civil society’s draft favoured all public servants to be covered under the Lokpal, the government representatives insisted that only officers above grade ‘A’ would be covered in the draft bill.

Social activist Swami Agnivesh said the civil society would launch a nationwide campaign against the government if the final version of the draft bill did not incorporate the suggestions made in the Jan Lokpal bill drafted by its members.

“We are waiting for the final draft of the Lokpal bill. If the government ignores our recommendations such as including the prime minister and the higher judiciary in the Lokpal bill, we will launch a non-violent campaign across the country,” he said.

Reiterating that there was no change in the stand of the civil society on bringing the prime minister under the ombudsman (Lokpal), he said it was imperative to include the top post as the prime minister also held several important portfolios.

“A Lokpal without the powers to investigate graft charges against the prime minister will lack credibility and even the government will not command respect of the people,” Agnivesh added.

Recalling that former prime ministers V.P. Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee agreed to be included under the Lokpal, he said even the current prime minister (Manmohan Singh) had earlier offered to come under the proposed ombudsman.

“What has gone wrong now? Why is the government suddenly backing out? We do not understand,” Agnivesh lamented.