THE LAWFILE

BJP: illogical, unconstitutional

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Keeping the Prime Minister out of the purview of the proposed Lokpal Bill is “illogical” and even “unconstitutional,” Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said here on Thursday as she explained why the Bharatiya Janata Party had opposed the measure at the introduction stage itself. Ms. Swaraj said she was allowed to place her objections in the Lok Sabha, although normally a member could, at the introduction stage, question only the legislative competence of the House to pass the proposed legislation, which was not the case now.

The Constitution gave no person holding any office immunity from criminal prosecution and the BJP’s objection is that the Bill giving the Prime Minister immunity is “constitutionally invalid.” The existing penal laws and the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1988 also do not exclude action against the Prime Minister. It is therefore “illogical” to keep him out of the purview of the proposed legislation, argued Ms. Swaraj and her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley. Although the National Democratic Alliance government between 1998 and 2004 did not get a Lokpal Bill passed, Ms. Swaraj said the party’s stand had been consistent for, the draft legislation of 2001 included the Prime Minister. “We have been consistent. It is the Congress which has changed its stance as Pranab Mukherjee, as chairman of the standing committee that looked at the Bill then, favoured inclusion of the Prime Minister.”

EQUALITY

Mr. Jaitley said the exclusion of the Prime Minister violated the constitutional guarantee of equality before law; two, the Lokpal Bill would come out with a procedure for looking at corruption in high places and any punishment would be decided on the basis of the Prevention of Corruption Act which did not give the Prime Minister any immunity and three, normally any corruption case against a Prime Minister would involve charges against one or more Ministers and bureaucrats who would be involved in a conspiracy to defraud the state. The law should not separate the individuals in a conspiracy and deal with them differently.

In response to questions, Ms. Swaraj clarified that her party had no objection to granting exemption to the Prime Minister in issues and decisions involving national security.

JUDICIAL COMMISSION

Asked why the BJP was not insisting on the higher judiciary also being covered by the Lokpal Bill on the same principle of constitutional guarantee of equality, Mr. Jaitley said the party favoured a separate national judicial commission for this purpose as that would ensure “separation” of the executive and the judiciary. As an executive-dominated committee would select a Lokpal, it would not be correct to bring the judiciary under that institution. In this context, he said an “alternative” must be found to “the current system of judges appointing judges and judges punishing judges” for, that had simply not worked.

Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Jaitley said the BJP would present its view forcefully before the standing committee when the Bill was discussed. When the Prime Minister could be investigated by the ordinary police or the Central Bureau of Investigation, it was “illogical” to keep him/her out of the purview of the Lokpal, they said.

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