Justice Verma writes to Prime Minister on the Jan Lokpal Bill
JUSTICE J S VERMA IN THE INDIAN EXPRESS
I write this letter with some hesitation about a matter of great national significance, succumbing to the constant pressure of many eminent citizens with the background of considerable public service and experience of governance at the highest level. Naturally, they are disturbed as I am, as you must be most of all, by the urgent need to prevent the clear and present danger of the prevailing unrest crossing a Rubicon, by taking steps to end the imbroglio.
As the head of the government, you alone can, and have to, perform this onerous task. With the commitment of “We, the People of India” to a democratic polity, I am sure, the people also clamour for a peaceful solution.
The nation is focused on the urgent need to combat corruption at all levels, which most affects the common man in every aspect of daily life. The demonstration of their anger on the streets is sufficient evidence that remedial measures cannot be delayed. The rule of law, which is the bedrock of democracy, is in peril. No referendum is needed to know that the nation is unanimous on the necessity of taking prompt remedial measures, which is the prime responsibility of the government, to be discharged with the aid of citizens doing their duty. The people’s participatory role in governance is the justification for the public outcry against corruption and the inordinate delay in taking remedial steps.
The prime need of your government, therefore, is to convince the people of the government’s equal commitment on this behalf. This can be done only by you, and none else! The malaise of a lack of political will and an erosion of individual rectitude, which is the foundation of national character, has to be arrested and reversed. This, too, can be done only by you!
Anna Hazare has rendered yeoman national service by mobilising public anger against corruption, and by identifying the causes of the malaise that needs to be cured. The next important step now is to decide on the way forward, and to move in that direction. Not merely curative or punitive, but preventive measures also have to be taken. Obviously, this can be done only in a congenial environment, with the government engaging with all sections of civil society, and donning a thinking cap. It is the government’s responsibility to create this environment by gaining the confidence of all of civil society.
No one has, rightly, doubted that the final act of enacting legislation has to be performed by the legislature; and then the law has to be faithfully implemented by the executive under constant public gaze and judicial scrutiny. This is, undoubtedly, our constitutional scheme, to which everyone is committed.
What is the way forward now, at this stage?
It is unnecessary, in this context, to reiterate my views on some of the contentious issues relating to the jurisdiction of the proposed Lokpal and the contents of the existing drafts of the bill. Substantially, they are already in the public domain. I confine this letter to my suggestions for your consideration about the way forward. These suggestions have crystallised after due reflection, and also consideration of the responses of some equally concerned eminent citizens. These are stated hereafter.
Mr Prime Minister, after your government constituted a joint committee with a few members of the civil society to draft the Lokpal bill, the logical corollary of that decision has to be accepted. This means that the views of the entire civil society must be presented by your government, along with the government’s draft, to Parliament for consideration during the debate on the bill. In an “inclusive” democracy, which undoubtedly our republican democracy is, every section of civil society, and every individual, has a participatory role in governance, including policy-making. The demand of Anna Hazare to send to Parliament the draft bill prepared by his team cannot, therefore, be denied. This I say, notwithstanding my differences with some points in that draft, and the mode of his protest.
This procedure has to be equally applied to the views and drafts of other sections of civil society, including individuals, if any, offering any serious suggestions. I am also of the view that the government needs to hold a few national consultations to give all sections of civil society an opportunity to participate in the exercise by offering their views for due consideration during the debate in Parliament. This exercise must be performed within a reasonable time.
Accordingly, the drafts already prepared by sections of civil society and in the public domain, namely, those by the Anna Hazare team, the Aruna Roy team and the Jayaprakash Narayan team may be presented to Parliament as the first step in this direction, to end the imbroglio. The additional views, offered in national consultations, can follow. This is the logical corollary of your government’s decision to involve civil society in the preparation of the draft Lokpal bill. Having commenced that process, it cannot be arrested midway or after part performance.
May I also suggest, in all humility, that this plan of action (if approved by you) needs to be conveyed by you directly to the nation in a broadcast through the active 24×7 media, which is busy these days disseminating information only on this issue, for its due impact.
The writer is a former Chief Justice of India email@example.com
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