Judges may be kept out of Lokpal radar


It is now certain that the higher judiciary wouldn’t be under the purview of the proposed Lokpal. Consensus to this effect emerged at a roundtable held here in which members of the civil society, including four non-government members of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, two former Chief Justices of India and many prominent citizens participated.

Another important issue on which there was “near unanimity” at the meeting was the procedure for appointment of Lokpal. “Almost everybody, including some members of the drafting committee, agreed that the procedure for appointment of Lokpal as provided in the Jan Lokpal Bill may not work. There was near consensus on having a search committee to first shortlist candidates and then a selection committee headed by the Prime Minister to make the final selection,” sources present in the meeting told The Indian Express.

The selection committee, a source said, could comprise the Prime Minister, presiding officers of the two Houses of Parliament, Leaders of Opposition in the two Houses of Parliament, two Judges of the Supreme Court and two eminent citizens to be nominated “unanimously” by other members of the selection panel.

However, the participants in the roundtable were sharply divided on whether the office of the Prime Minister of India should be under the purview of the Lokpal. Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh N Hegde, former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, lawyer Prashant Bhushan and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, all members of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, participated in the roundtable.

Speaking to mediapersons at the end of the meeting, former Chief Justice of India J S Verma said there was consensus that higher judiciary should be kept out of the Lokpal’s purview. “While there is no question that some measures should be in place to make the judiciary accountable, it was felt that to curb corruption in the higher judiciary, a better mechanism is required,” he said. To a question on whether the four members of the drafting committee who participated in the confabulation were in agreement on the issue of exclusion of judiciary, Loksatta founder Jayaprakash Narayan, who was one of the organisers of the roundtable, replied in the affirmative.

On the issue of whether or not the Prime Minister should be under the purview of the Lokpal, both Justice Verma as well as former CJI M N Venkatachaliah said while the government itself seemed agreeable to this idea, it was felt by many of those present at the roundtable that the Prime Minister shouldn’t be open to any investigation by the Lokpal in the interest of political stability as well as the fact that he is the country’s face in the international arena.

“But, there were strong views from both sides on this issue,” Venkatachaliah said. The two former CJIs, incidentally, were among those who opposed the demand to bring in the PM under the purview of the Lokpal. It is learnt that many participants in the roundtable conference were of the view that the proposed Lokpal should take up only “sensitive” cases, including those involving huge bribes and those affecting the prestige of the country. “Nobody would like the Lokpal to deal with cases of bribe involving a few thousand rupees,” observed a participant. On the contentious issue of whether the CBI’s anti-corruption wing should be merged with the proposed Lokpal, the majority sentiment was that the CBI should remain a “distinct, independent” entity. “However, it was felt that the CBI should be freed from government control,” said a source.