Govt, civil society deadlocked over Lokpal Bill

At the two-and-half hour meeting of the joint drafting committee on Lokpal Bill, differences persisted between the two sides on the proposed ombudsman, particularly its structure and modalities.

The Anna Hazare-led civil society members suggested that Lokpal should be empowered top probe corruption cases against officials doing away with the practice of conducting departmental probe along with a CBI enquiry. However, the government members rejected.

The other issue which was discussed in today's meeting was the structure of Lokpal. While the civil society proposed an 11-member independent anti-corruption watchdog with subordinates having powers, the government side differed arguing that only 11 members be empowered to take decisions.

HRD Minister Kapil Sibal said the committee will again meet on June 20 and 21 in an attempt to bridge differences. "It is clear there are areas where there are strong divergence of opinion...Hopefully the civil society members will give us a draft on issues of divergence. We ourselves will prepare a draft on the issues on which we think there are divergence and we will try and arrive at a consensus.

"If no consensus is not arrived, then we will forward a draft bill with both versions so that the Cabinet can take a view," he said. The process will be completed by June 30.
Claiming that nothing could be achieved from today's meeting, activist Arvind Kejriwal said, "the government is trying to kill the Lokpal even before it is born."

"Structurally, there was no convergence of opinion on the shape of the Lokpal would be, both at central and state level," Sibal said. The Hazare camp, which boycotted last meeting on June six alleging that government was playing a fraud, maintained that the deliberations over one and a half months were "pretence" on part of the government.

Kejriwal said they will not boycott the next meetings as the civil society members of the ten-member committee are keen to ensure that the country gets a strong Lokpal Bill.

"We were raising arguments over issues but the government side was only giving decisions. Even on small issues, it was hard to convince them. It seems that the government has made up its mind and is not ready to discuss," he said.

While Sibal said there will be a single Cabinet note that will carry versions of both the sides, the Hazare team claimed that two drafts of the Bill will be put up before the cabinet for consideration. The civil society members were sceptical of what the Cabinet will decide. "It is their Cabinet. What can you expect (from it)?" Kejriwal said.
The contentious issue of bringing the post of Prime Minister under the purview of Lokpal was not discussed in the meeting, said Sibal and Kejriwal.

Sibal said both the versions would be placed before the Cabinet so that there is no such feeling that the stand of the civil society has been ignored. The areas where there is agreement will also be put up in the draft Lokpal Bill.

"We have not yet decided on the future course of action and are considering their suggestions," he said. About the allegations levelled by the civil society against the ministers, Sibal said the Hazare-team has attributed it to "outsiders". Lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the civil society wanted to have a Lokpal with powers vested at the lower level.

"But the government wants to concentrate its powers at the higher level and wants the watchdog to investigate the higher officials," he said.

Meanwhile, Union Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ashwani Kumar sought cooperation from civil society on Lokpal Bill. "We earnestly hope that we will be able to bring the Bill in the monsoon session of the Parliament. Offcourse, it will depend upon a number of factors. I sincerely and earnestly hope and would appeal to the member of the civil society to cooperate with the government in taking the matter forward," he told reporters here.

Asked if the Bill will also bring the Prime Minister and judiciary under its ambit, he said "This is a work in progress. To the best of my knowledge, this stand has not been concertised or formalised and therefore the final contours and ambits, and scope of proposed legislation will only be known once there is a draft Bill."

Kumar said that country needs a credible and purposive Lokpal Bill. "The Government remains committed to such measures and I do want to say that the fight against corruption is no individuals or organisation's agenda. "It's a national agenda. It is a nation's cause and this government and the Congress leadership remain fully committed to this cause," the Minister added.

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