Anna hijacks Sonia's NAC on Lokpal Bill

Anna hijacks Sonia's NAC on Lokpal Bill

Gandhians fast-unto-death forces advisory council to put on hold consultation process within the panel

The NAC – the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance Government’s own mechanism for interface with civil society – has put on hold the process of consultations on Lokpal Bill, after Hazare’s fast-unto-death stir at Jantar Mantar in Delhi forced the Centre to set up a joint panel with five Union Ministers and an equal number of anti-corruption activists to draft the proposed legislation.

The NAC, headed by Congress president and UPA chairperson, had in its meeting on February 26 last decided to work on the Lokpal Bill. The council’s Working Group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance, headed by social activist Aruna Roy, was asked to hold consultations with civil society groups on the Lokpal Bill and study the drafts prepared by several “people’s movements and groups”.

Roy, however, told Deccan Herald that the NAC Working Group had suspended its works on Lokpal Bill, since Government had already constituted a panel with Hazare and four other representatives of the civil society to draft the proposed legislation.

In the wake of Hazare’s stir on Lokpal Bill, the Government on April 8 last constituted the joint panel, which is co-chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and former Law Minister and civil society activist Shanti Bhushan. The panel had its first meeting last Saturday.

Gandhi herself is understood to have proposed in the NAC meet on February 26 that the council should work on the Lokpal Bill, ostensibly to salvage the UPA Government’s image, which took a beating in the wake of a series of alleged scams – the mess in Commonwealth Games preparation in Delhi, corruption in allotment of flats in the Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai and the irregularities in allocation of 2-G spectrum licenses by the Ministry of Telecom as well as the S-band deal between the Indian Space Research Organization’s commercial wing Antrix and Devas Multimedia Limited.

The NAC Working Group on Transparency held its first consultation on Lokpal Bill with the civil society groups on April 4 – just a day before Hazare started his fast-unto-death stir.

According to the NAC officials, Shanti Bhushan, his son Prashant Bhushan, himself an eminent advocate, Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde and Right To Information campaigner Arvind Kejriwal were all present in the consultation, along with many other civil society activists.

“The meeting discussed the draft prepared by various people’s movements and groups. After exhaustive discussions, there was consensus on most of the general principles underlying the draft Bill, though it was found that some provisions needed to be examined further,” said a source in the NAC.

Though the NAC Working Group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance was supposed to “finalize the principles and framework” of the Lokpal Bill on the basis of its consultations with the social organizations, the process was suspended after the Government constituted the joint panel to draft the Bill, with Hazare, Shanti Bhushan, Prashant Bhushan, Hegde and Kejriwal representing the civil society.

Apart from Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, Law Minister M Veerappa Moily and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid are the Government’s representatives on the panel.

The NAC Working Group was supposed to meet again to discuss Lokpal Bill before the council’s next meeting on April 28. But Roy said that the Working Group would not meet and would instead brief the NAC about the works it had done on the Bill before the process had been stalled.

‘Tell colleagues not to derail process’

Social Activist Anna Hazare on Wednesday has asked Congress Chairperson Sonia Gandhi to dissuade her colleagues from “derailing” the process of drafting the Lokpal Bill. “The developments of the last few days have been a cause for concern. It seems that the corrupt forces in the country have united to derail the process of drafting an effective anticorruption law through the joint committee. Together we have to defeat their designs,” he said in his letter.  Hazare came down on two of the most vocal leaders of the ruling party — Digvijay Singh and Kapil Sibal — without mentioning their names, and asked the Congress chief whether she approves Singhs’s statement, most of which, he said, were factually wrong.  Meanwhile, Sibal has denied any debriefing to the journalists  after the meeting of the Drafting Committee.