This Article is From Aug 27, 2011

Lokpal debate: Time has come to raise bar of accountability, says Arun Jaitley

New Delhi: Highlights of  BJP leader Arun Jaitley's speech in the Rajya Sabha during the Lokpal Debate:

Our democracy is on trial

There is a movement going on in our country which has given us a clear message: people no longer willing to accept present status quo - that corruption in many areas has almost become a way of life.  People in higher position have a tendency to get away...there are cover-ups...where accountability norms are not very high and the average man has to confront corruption as a way of life.

We are not legislating, we are only deciding the parameters of the Lokpal and the areas which should come within scope and which should be kept outside.

We should have two guiding principles: The time has come to raise the bar of accountability in India. Routine structures have not responded to enormity of challenges. We should not have knee-jerk solution which are not consistent with our Constitution.

We are not legislating in haste in this case... but we must be guided predominantly by need for probity and the need to co-exist with constitutionalism.

Lokpal is Indian version of Swedish term ombudsman - "a grievance man." An official who is appointed to examine complaints against the administration...of citizens of unfair treatment meted out to them by government departments... and suggests a remedy if the complaint is justified.

Can no longer speak in generalities of India needs a Lokpal... but we have to now get into the nuts and bolts of it.

In any mature society, there will be a role of civil society. Some may take positions which are excessive and may not seem implementable.

Their role is to be  campaigner, a flag-bearer. They try to compel decision-makers to come around to their view. We can choose to agree or not. Laws cannot be made anywhere except in parliament. So we can give them the right to raise pressure, but must not be provoked by them.  We should not engineer a confrontation between civil society and parliament, or between Indian society and parliament.

The appointment of Lokayukta must not be made by the Centre, but by states. Centre should not be seen as interfering in the appointment of Lokayukta in the states.

Lokpal or Lokayukta is supposed to examine evidence when complaint comes of misconduct by public servant or minister. Assessment of evidence is required by people who have a fair mind. Anyone brought in with a motive or whose judicial or quasi-judicial abilities are suspect cannot do that.

We need higher standard of probity but there is a conflict in compromising federal structure (if Centre enacts law for Lokayuktas in state). No point in creating a law which is struck down because it violates federalism principles.

Some argue PM is accountable only to parliament. But PM is accountable to Prevention of Corruption Act, and other laws. When you are creating a special mechanism, you say a major provision of Prevention of Corruption Act will be suspended. Otherwise, if there a corrupt PM, we must continue to suffer him and hold him accountable only after he leaves office.   The Standing Committee can work out exemptions for PM under Lokpal - can include national security, possibly even foreign policy.

Executive must not interfere in independence of judiciary. But task of appointing judges cannot be left to judges alone. So we need to strengthen Judicial Accountability Bill, and we need a National Judicial Commission.

Civil society seems to agree that Lokpal can recommend action against government servants.  Any Lokal bill must be compatible with constitutional values.

Can quasi-judicial powers be delegated? This ordinarily doesn't take place but we can work it out.

Covering all government servants under Lokpal is a procedural matter... can be worked out... it is not a breaking matter. When even PM can be accountable, why should a junior government employee not be accountable? We say please bring them within Lokpal. But there is room for flexibility here... we have various options... but overall accountability to Lokpal is necessary.

We  cannot make a virtue out of phone-tapping. I reject this power for the Lokpal under Anna's bill.