Lokpal Bill joint panel meets

12:03 PM, Monday, June 20th, 2011

Lokpal Bill joint panelNew Delhi:  The last round of discussions between the two teams that are drafting what’s intended to be India’s tough new law against corruption has begun in Delhi.
This meeting of five ministers and five activists headed by Gandhian Anna Hazare is crucial. Justice Santosh Hegde who is on Team Anna cannot attend today’s meet due to a prior commitment, he said; he plans to be in Delhi tomorrow. If they are not able to bridge their considerable gap, two versions of the Lokpal Bill may be sent to the Cabinet for review – an unenviable first for India.
Mr Hazare has warned that if the Lokpal Bill is not passed in Parliament by August 15, he will go on a hunger strike. The government has said that whether or not Mr Hazare’s team helps out, it is determined to submit the draft of the bill by June 30. That gives the deeply-divided committee 10 days to work it out. The odds are against a reconciliation – the ministers and activists differ not just on the bigger issues – like whether the bill should cover the Prime Minister’s Office, but on the ABCs as well – who should select the 11 members of the Lokpal, for example, and what sort of complaints of corruption should they investigate? All, says Team Anna. Only serious ones, retorts the government.
The task of developing the Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill) has been entrusted to a ten-member Drafting Committee. It was set up after Mr Hazare’s hunger strike in April against corruption. Lakhs of Indians, tired of a maze of financial scams that the government seemed to be lost in, marched on the streets to support Mr Hazare. Unprepared for the onslaught of congratulatory public opinion for Mr Hazare, the government reluctantly agreed that five ministers and five representatives of civil society would together design the Lokpal Bill.
Eight meetings later, the committee has been engulfed by publicly-traded fusillades. In an editorial in the newspaper The Hindu today, Mr Bhushan accused the government of an “arrogance of power.” He writes, “We are repeatedly being told that laws have to be made by the elected representatives of the people and civil society has no role to play. This view shows an arrogance of power. Those running the government have forgotten that they are merely the representatives of the people and they must run the government and make laws as per their wishes. Therefore, while deciding which Lokpal Bill to pass, they must find out what the people want and, if they have any doubt about that, they can have a referendum on the disputed issues.”
For its part, the government has made it clear that it has run out of patience with Team Anna and its demands. Congress president Sonia Gandhi sent a curt reply to Mr Hazare yesterday, subtly reproaching him for making his note to her a few days ago available to the media. Mr Hazare had complained that the Congress was linking him to the right-wing RSS in an attempt to damage his credibility. Mrs Gandhi said in her note that she had made her position clear in an earlier letter
Over the weekend, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who is co-chairman of the Drafting Committee held a series of meetings with other ministers like Kapil Sibal and Salman Khursheed who are on the Lokpal Panel. Mr Sibal said that the government had a compromise formula for the fractious issue of whether the Lokpal bill should apply to the Prime Minister. He suggested that it could, once the PM’s term in office is completed. Activists have earlier refused that offer.
Other sticking points include whether MPs’ conduct in Parliament and the office of the Chief Justice of India can be covered by the Lokpal – essential, according to the activists, and unlikely, according to ministers.

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