New Delhi: In a sincere attempt to shatter the ‘Jokepal’ tag that the Lokpal Bill has been carrying for a while now, Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal listed out a slew of salient features of the Bill and stressed that it was a very effective Bill and a first in the history of democratic India and not a joke at all.
Speaking exclusively to Zeenews.com’s Swati Chaturvedi on her chat show Kahiye Janab, Sibal, known as a key trouble-shooter of the UPA government, projected the Lokpal Bill in a very good light and listed out its myriad features which have been introduced “for the first time in India’s history.”
On being asked to react on Anna Hazare’s vehement rejection of the bill and his oft quoted tag of “Jokepal” instead of Lokpal, Sibal started by saying that “It is for the first time in India’s history that all the ministers are under its purview. For the first time in India’s history, a separate prosecution wing with no link to the government will be under Lokpal’s ambit. An investigation wing, for the first time in India’s history, will come under its jurisdiction. Any sanction will not be needed, again, for the first time in India’s history, for the prosecution of any minister.”
On the question of the Prime Minister and the Judiciary not being under the realm of Lokpal, Sibal contended that putting the PM under Lokpal’s jurisdiction will prove to be a major obstacle in running the country and that there was a separate Bill in process for the Judiciary.
“If you put the PM’s office under its purview, there will be allegations against him on a daily basis, given the sort of politics that prevails here. In such a situation, will the country be governed properly, ever?” said Sibal.
On being asked if there was no corruption in the Judiciary, and why should it not come under Lokpal’s ambit, Sibal said that many towering names in the Judiciary were of the view that it should not be kept in Lokpal’s purview.
“The likes of GS Varma and MN Venkatachaliah, who have been former Chief Justices of India, have said that the Judiciary should be out of the purview of Lokpal,” said Sibal.
When Swati mentioned the name of ex-CJI Balakrishnan, who is mired in corruption charges for his family members having reportedly amassed disproportionate assets, Sibal came quickly to defend his point saying that there was a separate Judicial Accountability Bill in the making for such cases and that the whole Judiciary would be soon brought under a separate investigation process.
“We are bringing a separate Judicial Accountability Bill, which is stronger and the whole Judiciary will be under its jurisdiction,” asserted Sibal.
When questioned why had he not consulted all the political parties before drafting the Lokpal Bill, Sibal said that the government was not left with enough time to consult the parties at a moment when “lakhs of people were protesting and fasting at Jantar Mantar along with Anna Hazare.”
Kapil clarified that once the civil society had broken the fast and the Joint Drafting Committee was made, they did consult all the political parties on one-to-one basis and also included their suggestions while drafting the Lokpal Bill.
“We talked to BJP, BSP, Trinamool, etc on one-to-one basis for their suggestions and we also absorbed their suggestions into the draft,” said Sibal.
Kapil Sibal, who is also a hot-shot lawyer, managed to evade few questions very dexterously. When asked that what his take was on the imminent fast that Anna would start on August 16 at the Jantar Mantar, Sibal said that it had nothing to do with his ministry and that it was a law and order issue that pertained to the police.
Sibal also dodged the question on the Ramlila Maidan crackdown when several protesters were lathicharged at the stroke of midnight, saying that he had nothing to comment and that the issue was subjudice and before the Honourable Supreme Court.
On being specifically asked about whether there was any mishandling on the part of the government while dealing with Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev, Sibal said, “Only time will tell. May be it teaches a lesson to everyone…”
“I have learnt that one should study the situation meticulously and then take any step,” added Sibal.
When the discussion veered to the 2G scam issue, Swati Chaturvedi asked Sibal to comment on A Raja’s submissions in the court which implied that P Chidambaram and the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were in the know of whatever happened related to the 2G telecom policy; Sibal said that an accuser’s submissions in the court should not be construed as an evidence since “an accuser can say anything in the court to defend himself.”
When asked specifically about the emerging role of P Chidambaram in the 2G issue and whether he held any moral responsibility, Sibal came to full rescue of the Home Minister saying “Chidambaram did not watch A Raja’s wrongdoings with his eyes closed and that his ministry had sent a letter to the PM which said there must be a Price-based indexing, but the minister (A Raja) did not comply. The minister later assured the PM that he was following the same policy which had been in place since 2003, since the NDA regime and licenses will be distributed equitably and transparently.”
Clarifying the PM’s role, Sibal said that it was “not the PM’s duty to sit in every minister’s cabin and supervise the proceedings.”
Declining to comment further on the topic, Sibal said “It (to comment on A Raja’s submissions in the court) is harmful for the media, the democracy and the entire judicial system. The court and only the court will decide on it.”
On being asked about the deteriorating stock market scenario and the FDI outflow, the Telecom Minister straightaway blamed the media.
“It is because of the media. You people (media) project the things in a very bad light before the people… You create a disillusion. If this continues, it would be very harmful for the economy,” said the minister.
On being asked why the Indians were investing more than 60% outside the country, Sibal said media was to blame for this as it had resulted in tarnishing of the image of India as a country where corruption is rampant.
“Who will invest his money here if he feels that the investment will land him into Tihar?” questioned Sibal.
“Media should work within its limits. It’s not free speech. It’s commercial speech,” he added.
Adaptation: Supriya Jha