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Lokpal & judges bill on Prasad table

Prasad takes charge of the telecom ministry. Picture by Ramakant Kushwaha

New Delhi, May 27: Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad today said the government might revisit the Lok Pal act and a bill that seeks to give the executive a say in the appointment of judges but avoided a direct reply on the new regime’s stand on homosexuality.

Prasad, who is also in charge of telecom, said the right investment climate would be created for attracting foreign direct investment.

But the Union minister, who assumed charge this morning and was closeted with law secretary P.K. Malhotra and other department officials for over an hour before he met reporters, asserted that the BJP-led government would not brook “corruption, extraneous factors and influence” in the name of foreign investment.

Prasad, a senior Supreme Court lawyer, said a national judicial commission was part of “our manifesto” and the new government would, if needed, take a fresh look at the bill, which has been passed in the Rajya Sabha and needs clearance from the Lok Sabha.

“It is part of our manifesto to have a national judicial commission. Surely, we will go through the existing instrument and if there is a need for (improvement), we may consider it,” he told reporters.

The bill, which relates to appointment of judges to the Supreme Court and high courts, seeks to replace, among others, the collegium system in which judges appoint judges. The proposed commission that the bill envisages will include the Prime Minister, the leader of Opposition and eminent jurists, apart from judges.

Asked about the anti-graft Lok Pal law, Prasad said he would have to “go into” the details of the act. “It has been passed in the House after final improvements by the select panel. In my new role as the Union law minister, I will look into it,” he said.

Prasad said the government would give top priority to promoting arbitration and conciliation as alternative systems to address disputes to avoid clogging and to create a favourable investment climate. He also voiced the new government’s opposition to imposing retrospective tax on overseas deals.

Asked whether he endorsed the previous government’s decision to apply retrospective tax on companies like Vodafone — a dispute that reached the Supreme Court — he said retrospective taxation should be “avoidedů because India needs investment”.

“Our manifesto is clear, we want a stable regime. Those who invest in India must have an assurance of a stable, fiscal policy and legal regime. But any wrongdoing, corruption or extraneous reason will be visited very seriously.”

The minister said “improvement of infrastructure, creation of more courts, more computerisation, more judges and also creating all other enabling atmosphere to improve access to justice” would be high-priority areas. “For good governance, good legal access is essential. We will work in this direction,” he said.

On the gay sex law, however, Prasad appeared evasive. “We will have to examine the Supreme Court judgment. I will have to examine what is the nature of the government’s direction,” he said, asked whether the government was opposed to the deletion of Section 377 under which gay sex is a criminal offence.

The penal code section has become a contentious issue after the Supreme Court upheld its constitutional validity but granted the government liberty to delete the provision. The previous UPA government did not accept the gauntlet thrown down by the apex court.

Prasad said the government would shortly constitute a special investigation team in accordance with the apex court’s directive to unearth black money stashed abroad. “(Unearthing) black money is part of our manifesto. A proper SIT for unearthing the black money will be set up. The black money issue is our priority area,” he said.

On ending capital punishment, Prasad said the government has to take into consideration judgments from the apex court and views of various sections of the society.