Government opposes inclusion of premier in Lokpal Bill
New Delhi: Even as the Congress party suggested that an all-party meeting on the long pending Lokpal (citizens' ombudsman) Bill be convened, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal Saturday said the government was prima facie opposed to the proposal to include the prime minister within the jurisdiction of the anti-corruption body .
"Within the government, we feel prima facie, the prime minister should not be covered," Sibal said in a CNN-IBN programme.
"But at the same time, we want to make sure that if he demits office, he should not be exonerated from prosecution," Sibal added.
The Congress core committee yesterday suggested that the government call an all-party meeting to seek views on the Lokpal Bill.
The core committee meeting, chaired by party chief Sonia Gandhi, felt that an all-party meeting would help arrive at a consensus on ticklish issues and defuse the pressure on the government and the party, the sources added.
This was the second meeting of the powerful Congress committee in two days. Besides Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, key ministers including Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P. Chidambaram attended the meeting.
The central government and civil society, led by social activist Anna Hazare, are engaged in a war of words for over a month over various "fundamental issues" concerning the proposed legislation, including bringing the prime minister, judges and parliamentarians within the jurisdiction of the Lokpal.
Sibal, who is one of the government representatives on the ten-member drafting committee, however, clarified that the government will only decide on the issue after the draft Bill goes to the cabinet.
He said the five ministers on the committee were willing to be persuaded to bring the prime minister within the ambit of the anti-corruption legislation if the civil society presents a compelling argument.
The government panel is co-chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee with Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid as members.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said earlier that he was "open" to the idea of bringing the post under the Lokpal.
Sibal said it was not the question of "an individual, Manmohan Singh, but it's about an institution".
"Which prime minister in office anywhere in the world has been prosecuted in the world? Please tell me, please give me an example," he argued.
Sibal said only one draft of the Bill will be submitted to the cabinet.
"We will try and resolve the disagreements as much as possible," Sibal said, when asked about the differences between the government and social activist Hazare's group on the provisions of the Lokpal Bill.
"There will be no two drafts, though there may be areas of disagreement,' he said.
While giving a single draft to the cabinet, differences between the two sides will be brought to the cabinet's notice, Sibal said.
Clarity is lacking
With the government opposed to bringing the prime minister within the ambit of the Lokpal Bill, the Bharatiya Janata Party Saturday slammed it for "lack of clarity" on the anti-graft legislation.
"The government's view on bringing the prime minister under the Bill is still not clear. Kapil Sibal has one view, Home Minister Chidambaram says something else," BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters.
"The point is the government has no clarity at all. Once the government gives a tentative view on the bill and an all-party meeting is called, we can have more clarity," he added. Earlier, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said: "Within the government, we feel prima facie, the prime minister should not be covered [under the ambit of the Lokpal]."
"But at the same time, we want to make sure that if he demits office, he should not be exonerated from prosecution," Sibal told Karan Thapar in CNN-IBN's Devil's Advocate programme.