On April 5, Anna Hazare decided to go on an indefinite fast. None of us sitting in this chamber can say the issue is not important, none of us can condemn or criticise the person who is going to raise this issue and, even in old age, taking the risk of endangering his life. But in this context, the Prime Minister immediately decided through his interlocutors to suggest to the representatives of Hazare that what could address his concern, was a joint drafting committee.
We have been criticised. But at the same time, please remember that in the largest functional democracy of the world, encompassing 120 crore plus people, it is not necessary that we always move in a conventional straitjacketed way. Therefore, it was decided like that. Yes, it is a non-conventional way. I am not a new minister. I know how the government functions. Normally, legislation is drafted by the ministry with the help of the civil servants. Then, with inter-ministerial consultations, it gets the approval of the Cabinet. It is next brought to the House and sent to the Standing Committee.
The Standing Committee came into existence in 1991. Prior to that, there was a process of the Select Committee. Even when the Bill is being introduced, any member can get up and move a motion asking for the Bill to be circulated for eliciting public opinion. That was the conventional way in which we were making legislation. But recognising the fact, if we could not do it for 40 years, it is our lapse. I was a minister in the 1970s, in the 1980s, in the 1990s and yes, during our time, we could not do it. As Sushmaji has admitted, during their time also, the Bill was introduced twice. Even in 1996 during the United Front-rule, of which Gurudas Dasgupta’s party was a participant, they could not pass it.
We tried our best. It is unfortunate that we could not agree on all points. But there were substantial agreements. As I mentioned, of the 40 basic principles, on as many as 34 there were agreements; on six, there were differences. In a democratic process, we have to always create a situation where there is give and take. I thought we would be able to resolve it, but we could not. Thereafter, we will follow the entire legislation-making process in the usual course and we did so.
Whatever was incorporated in the Bill will be subjected to the scrutiny of the Standing Committee and this House and, thereafter, with your approval and the approval of the House, it will be passed. If you want to include the Prime Minister or delete any provision or strengthen it by making any amendment, you are free.
So, why should a particular Bill be withdrawn or a particular Bill, which has been introduced, be burnt publicly? There should be a distinction between mobocracy and democracy. The six issues where we have differences, we hoped we can reach an agreement. But unfortunately, thereafter, the line of communication was snapped. We were threatened with an agitation that this Bill was to be passed by August 15.
Corruption is an important issue, but does anyone of us believe seriously — not to score a debating point — that one piece of legislation, however powerful and effective it may be, however independent and empowered it may be — that piece of legislation will completely eradicate corruption? There is a need for the change in the system and we are doing so. I can give you an example. In my own department, there was a constant complaint — Yashwant Sinhaji will agree with me — in regard to the refund claim of the taxpayer. As a result, through electronisation — taking the IT platform and net banking — from April onwards, we have been able to ensure the refund to the extent of more than 37 per cent. These are the system changes we are thinking. Also, we are hoping that by next month or by October, 20 crore people of this country will have a unique identity number. We have introduced the PAN card in the area of taxation. The same PAN card could be used for all sorts of taxes — from commercial tax, sales tax, to goods and services tax if introduced and to income tax. So, these are the systemic changes which we are trying to bring about. It is taking time.
We are trying, through this debate, to resolve an important issue, an agitation carried on by a very respectable leader having very broad support. And, at the same time, being the Members of Parliament, we take an oath by the Constitution to abide by the Constitutional norms and principles, to protect the Constitution. Therefore, it is our responsibility to abide by the Constitution to ensure that there is no conflict with the desire of the people who are our masters and there is no question of conflict.
Edited excerpts from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s speech in the Lok Sabha on the Lok Pal Bill on August 29