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Govt, Anna Lokpal talks reach breakpoint

The two-month dialogue between government and civil society for an effective Lokpal bill collapsed.



Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi: The tiff between Team Anna and the Government over Lokpal Bill continued on Thursday as Home Minister P Chidambaram said the proposed legislation will be drafted by the deadline of June 30.

The civil society members of the Lokpal bill joint drafting committee have called the meetings with the government a "drama".

With each side sticking to its stand on contentious issues, the 74-year-old Hazare said he would resume at Jantar Mantar a hunger strike that he had called off after five days in April when the government agreed to set up a 10-member panel to frame a Lokpal bill to fight corruption.

The government members in the joint committee drafting the Lokpal Bill said they had not got answers from Team Hazare on some of fundamental issues concerning the anti-graft legislation.

"On behalf of the government, we want to reiterate what we have been saying - it is our intention to draft a strong and sound Lokpal bill, and we will complete it by June 30," Home Minister P Chidambaram said at a press conference jointly addressed with Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal and Water Resources Minister Salman Khursheed.

“We continued to work even when Team Anna stayed away,” Chidambaram insisted, adding political process must be respected.

The PM`s post may be brought under Lokpal with clearly carved out exceptions, Chidambaram said, adding no decision has been taken as yet and it is open to discussion.

The government`s response came within minutes of Anna Hazare announcing that he will sit on a fast again from August 16 as the government had turned its back on drafting a strong Lokpal bill.

Arvind Kejriwal, a civil society member of the committee, said the meetings held so far were "a drama”.

Chidambaram said when the Lokpal bill will be passed, a vast majority will say that a good job has been done.

Terming the anti-corruption legislation a "complex bill", he said discussions cannot be reduced to binary choices.

"In fact, some of those who participate, think of binary choices - my way or high way...there is a Constitution, a philosophy underlining Constitution. There are basic features of the Constitution which cannot be altered," he said.

The minister said laws had to be made by Parliament and no party had a majority in the present Lok Sabha.

`No parallel govt’

Speaking on Lokpal Bill issue, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal admitted having certain fundamental differences with the civil society members.

"There are certain fundamental issues which have to be addressed...the civil society members feel it should be a structure outside the government system and cover every employee of the central and state government," Sibal said, adding that there were about 10-12 million employees who would have to be covered.

"How will you create such a structure outside which is pure, clean and unaffected by corruption...how will that work," he asked.

Sibal said the ministers posed these questions to the civil society members on the panel.

“There is a basic confrontation over the structure of Lokpal Bill…but we cannot create a structure parallel to government,” said Sibal, adding, “how can government wantonly part with its power.”

“You can either threaten or negotiate; you can`t threaten a negotiating process,” Sibal said on Anna Hazare`s decision to go on fast.

Reacting to Team Anna’s allegations that the government has gone back upon its promises, Sibal said he sought clarification from the civil society members on this, but there was no answer from the other side.

The minister also took exception to Anna Hazare`s announcement of resuming his fast from August 16.

"If we don`t agree with what they say, then they will go on hunger strike," he added, mockingly.

Team Anna have reiterated their determination to continue their crusade against corruption and “fight till death”.

He said the government representatives on the panel had been restrained in their reaction to allegations by Team Hazare about the government working with a pre-conditioned mind.

Sibal also took exception to Hazare`s representative Arvind Kejriwal`s remarks that the ministers do not want to "sign suicide note" because a strong Lokpal send more than 50 percent of ministers to jail.

"Is this the way to conduct a discourse. This is serious business of drafting a legislation," Sibal said.

Sibal ruled out two drafts of the legislation going to the Cabinet as claimed by the Hazare camp and made it clear that it would be a single note containing differing views.

`Civil society`s Lokpal concept exists nowhere’

Water Resources Minister Salman Khursheed said the kind of system proposed by civil society members in their anti-graft Janlokpal bill exists nowhere in the world.

"I have recently been to a Commonwealth conference and nowhere in the world does the ombudsman, or the parliamentary commissioner, or the equivalent of what we will have in Lokpal has the kind of power and structure that we are willingly wanting to provide for them in this country," Khurshid said.

Khursheed said the government had not steered clear of public debate on the bill and this could be done once the bill is introduced in Parliament.

"This (the bill) will be another step forward towards transparency," he said.

Differences emerged between the two sides in the seventh meeting of the drafting committee on Wednesday, with the civil society members alleging that the government was attempting to "bulldoze" its version of the bill.

Inclusion of the prime minister and judiciary within the ambit of the proposed Lokpal are among the main points of differences between the two sides.

On Wednesday, they failed to resolve their many differences, and the government said it would put up its own draft of the proposed Lokpal bill and that of the civil society before the cabinet.

"Suddenly they have changed their position," Hazare complained. "If two drafts were to be sent, why did they form the joint committee? They could have done this earlier."

"What was the point of wasting so much time? It is clear the government is not interested in eradicating corruption."

The more vocal Kejriwal said the government was neither serious about the Lokpal bill nor about fighting corruption.

"The government has frittered away a huge opportunity to provide a good legislation to the country... The government`s Lokpal bill is not a Lokpal bill, it is a jokepal bill."

Sibal took exception to Kejriwal`s statement that if there was an effective anti-corruption legislation in the country, then more than half the ministers today would be in prison.

"You question our motives, our honesty. You say half of us will be in jail. This is not the way for the so-called representatives of Anna Hazare to carry forward the discourse," he asserted.

(With Agencies’ inputs)

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