Team Anna doubts govt’s intention on Lokpal



New Delhi: Civil society activists led by Anna Hazare Monday boycotted the meeting of the joint drafting committee on Lokpal bill saying government's intentions raised serious doubts about having a strong anti-corruption watchdog and protesting against the police crackdown on Ramdev.

The activists have also sought rescheduling of the next meeting of the JDC on June 10 to some other date because of some prior engagements of Hazare.

After a meeting of the activists, Prashant Bhushan, one of the non-official members wrote a letter to Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Chairman of JDC, saying the government desires to practically leave everyone out of Lokpal's ambit--Prime Minister, horse trading of MPs, middle and lower bureaucracy judiciary.

He said there was divergence even on the vision of Lokpal and if the government's stand is accepted, Lokpal would be left to investigate the corruption of only 300-odd officers and ministers.

"This is government's vision for Lokpal," the letter said.

The letter criticised the "casual and frivolous" manner in which the government had prepared the questionnaire to the chief ministers and the political parties which has been commented upon by them also.

Referring to the mid-night crackdown on Baba Ramdev and his followers and other issues, Bhushan said "all these developments have raised doubts in our mind whether the government was at all interested in containing corruption and having a strong Lokpal bill.

"However, what happened on Saturday night in Ramlila Maidan have strengthened our doubts. All these developments have raised doubts about government's intention and so we are not attending today's meeting."

The next meeting is scheduled on June 10. Hazare has prior engagements from June 9-11. "So we request rescheduling of that meeting," Bhushan said.

While waiting for government's response, he cautioned that time was running out and the committee was yet to finalise the basic principles behind the bill.

Bhushan said developments so far do not inspire confidence that this law would be drafted by June 30.

In the letter, he said the civil society was told that the manner in which views of political parties and state governments would be sought would be decided in consultation with them but it did not happen.

"We wonder whether in the history of parliamentary democracy, such an objective type questionnaire (to tick mark the right answer from the choices of a, b, c) was ever sent to the Chief Ministers and political parties before drafting any law," he said.

He said they were insisting from the first meeting to have serious consultations with various stakeholders, not to seek their opinion in the form of a survey questionnaire, but to do collective brainstorming with them to seek more ideas and opinions.

"The government seems to be shying away from any kind of public debate," he said.

"Recent events since our last meeting don't inspire any confidence that the government is serious enough about the Lokpal bill. Further, what happened in the Ramlila ground strengthened our doubts," Bhushan told reporters.

Another panel member Arvind Kejriwal alleged that the government appeared not serious on the issue and were giving "frivolous" reasons when issues were raised.

"When we asked why they were against including judiciary under the ambit of Lokpal panel, the government side told us that two former Chief Justices J S Verma and M Venkitachellaih had written articles saying it should not be done, so we will not do," he said.

Asked whether there could be a middle-path to resolve the stalemate, Kejriwal said many people were asking whether the civil society would compromise.

"We will compromise if the public says so. If the public does not want the Lokpal to investigate charges of a Prime Minister's corruption, we are ready to drop it. If the public does not want an investigation by Lokpal the charge of a bribe given to judge, then we are ready for a compromise," he said.

Queried whether it was proper for the ministers of the joint panel to go ahead with the meeting when they were boycotting it, Kejriwal did not find fault with it saying the ministers can go ahead with the meeting.

"They can go ahead with the meeting. There is nothing wrong in it. We also have sent a letter today only. They can meet," he said.

PTI