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Two top lawyers’ contest on Lokpal

Two top lawyers – Arun Jaitley of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the Congress – set the pace of debate on the Lokpal bill in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday with their debate. Here are the points and counter-points:

Jaitley: You (the government) want to control appointments, want government control over investigating agency, use Lokpal to intrude every aspect of civil society…The legal architecture you have made is not very strong…The government is creating a constitutional cocktail…I regret to say this is half-hearted legislation.

Singhvi: You want one Lokpal, subsume the CVC (Central Vigilance Commission) and the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) under Lokpal, move citizens’ charter under Lokpal, allow Lokpal suo moto power, have preliminary inquiry by Lokpal, actual investigation by Lokpal, prosecution by Lokpal. Thank God, you did not say judgment must also come from Lokpal. You are creating a behemoth of unimaginable proportions. The Prime Minister’s Office will look like pygmy in comparison.

Jaitley: We don’t want the present (government) bill but also don’t want to go back today (Thursday) without passing a Lokpal bill. We want a strong Lokpal bill…Would they allow a weak bill or support amendments to make it a strong bill…? Lokpal is a primary integrity institution…Are you going to subvert it? Will you kill the Lokpal in the womb? We want to create an independent Lokpal, you want to create a subservient Lokpal. You want a pliable agency so that it is a rudderless institution. If we are creating history, we should not create bad history.

Singhvi: Don’t do it for our sake but join us in passing the Lokpal Bill for the sake of the nation. No use putting a string of conditionalities in your statements. No use saying I want to pass a strong effective bill after three months after referring it again to a committee, after further discussions.

Jaitley: They wanted to create a phoney Lokpal and a smokescreen. They wanted to make it a toy and then say it is a constitutional authority…Whoever conceived this is alien to criminal jurisprudence. Why create this unworkable mechanism…? This is not a question of victory and defeat of the government.

Singhvi: Just because a good idea is given by Congress general secretary (Rahul Gandhi), it must (not) be shot down. In writing, you said there was no objection to this. Then here you say, yes, we want constitutional status but only if we take away Lokayukta part and if we give strong bill. Now you and I have different ideas of strong bill but what does constitutional status affect the Lokayukta part? You are trying to find excuses to oppose constitutional status.

Jaitley: Please don’t create an area where you are creating for the first time a precedent. The Trinamool Congress is right – state government has right to frame law and to decide on action against state officials. Why are you creating constitutional havoc? You create a system where disciplinary action against officer of the state can take place via a central law?…States won’t be able to run their governments…The authority to deal with state services can only be with the state.

Singhvi: Want to clarify for our friends on this side (Trinamool Congress) that the government has bent over backwards and has already amended the law to say clause on Lokayukta will only apply with consent of the states.

Jaitley: Why should citizens’ charter not be part of this? You agreed to this in Sense of House on August 27. For Lokayukta, too, we have to do this in correct manner.

Singhvi: To simplify matters, there is not a sentence here in five lines of Pranab Mukherjee (Sense of House) that suggest citizens’ charter should or must be under the same Lokpal.

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