New Delhi: Responding to the demands by the civil activists led by Anna Hazare that the anti-corruption bill must not be drafted only by politicians and the government, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Wednesday, expressed his willingness to step down from the Group of Ministers looking into the issue.
“I will be happy if I am relieved from various GoMs including this GoM,” Pawar said.
72-year-old Hazare is into the second-day of his fast-unto-death at Jantar Mantar in the national capital demanding that the government allow 50 percent representatives of public in the committee for draft of the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Hazare has also demanded that the Bill must empower the office of the Lokpal to prosecute those indicted for corruption and also have the power to file FIRs, something the bill in its current form does not prescribe.
As per the current bill being pushed by the government, Lokpal can only receive complaints from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, i.e. it will have jurisdiction only on PM, ministers and MPs, while the activists are demanding that the Lokpal must be given jurisdiction over all politicians, officials and judges.
Importantly, Hazare is also demanding that the accused in such cases, if proven guilty, must be made to pay for the loss incurred to the government, while the bill, as of now, has no provision to seize illegal wealth.
Hazare is being supported by leading lights of the civil society like Swami Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi, Magsaysay award winning social activist Arvind Kejriwal.
In fact, it was Kejriwal who had yesterday raised objection to Sharad Pawar’s inclusion in the GoM on corruption. “Sharad Pawar, who is himself involved in many corruption cases, is in the Group of Ministers. Do you think it is going to help? We want a joint committee be formed to draft the new Bill where at least half of the members of the draft panel are from general public,” he had said.
Responding to Pawar’s offer to step down from the GoM, Kejriwal today said, “How many other ministers are ready to sit out? How many people will you remove? We only demand that there be more representation for the people.”
Pressure has been mounting on the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to enact the Lokpal Bill to check corruption by public servants for some time - 42 years after the first attempt was made to create such a law.
The current government had offered to take into consideration the suggestions by the activists while drafting the bill but had rejected the demand for the formation of a joint committee, as suggested by Anna Hazare.
Meanwhile, Law Minister Veerappa Moily, who is also part of the GoM, today defended the Centre’s stand saying that the government is open to discussions. “We have not closed the issue,” he said.
“PM is doing his best to fight corruption. The UPA government has demonstrated its will power to fight corruption. We are anxious to see the bill through,” he said.
Moily’s cabinet colleague Ambika Soni put the whole issue this way: “No group of people can decide for the whole country. PM has made an offer to discuss the issue, they should accept it.”
However, as things stand, more tough times are in store for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is already battling to a slew of corruption charges against his government.
He has already appealed to Hazare not to fast and instead discuss the matter with the government.