Joint panel on Lokpal fails

Anna to fast from Aug 16; monsoon session of Parliament postponed

Joint panel on Lokpal fails

The joint panel mechanism for drafting Lokpal bill virtually collapsed  with the ministerial team and the Anna Hazare-led civil society members failing to reconcile key differences. A disillusioned Hazare announced his decision to go ahead with his fast from August 16.

“There is no other way. I have been saying right from the beginning that they (government) are not serious abo­ut the Lokpal. We will protest, and the people will teach them a lesson,” said Hazare.

The decision to postpone the Parliament session was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) headed by Pri­me Minister Manmohan Si­ngh, with the government apparently buying time to for­mulate a consensus on the bill with political parties and civil society.

After two turbulent months and eight bilateral meetings later, both sides ended their marathon discussions on Tuesday without any of the earlier acrimony, but failed to overcome their divergent views on six issues, including the need to have the prime minister investigated by the proposed ombudsman.

Addressing a press conference after the meeting, the government members of the committee, Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal, Law Minister Verappa Moily and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said they could not afford to have a parallel government. They said all the ministers are sworn to the Constitution and the model proposed by civil society does not abide by it. While the government claimed that the committee agreed on 34 of the 40 principles, civil society members accused the government of not agreeing to the model of Lokpal they had envisioned.

In the meeting, both sides exchanged their respective versions of the proposed bill.  Civil society will respond to the government’s draft in two or three days.  “Both drafts will be circulated to political parties and suggestions from the parties will be sent to the Cabinet. The consensus draft will come as bill in the monsoon session,” Sibal said. An all-party meeting will be held in July.

Independent agency

Moily said the proposed Lokpal could have an independent agency with powers of investigation and prosecution.

“It will have quasi-judicial body with contempt powers.  It will require no sanction from anybody and can take up complaints suo motu,” Moily said. The government has agreed to include higher bureaucracy in the ambit of the proposed Lokpal Bill. Moily said all the group “A” officers can be investigated and prosecuted by the Lokpal, wh­ich will have complete administrative autonomy.

Civil society members Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal expressed disappointment over the outcome of the committee meeting.

The government, which is battling a major image problem in view of various corruption scandals, and civil society are now expected to take their battle to a larger domain—political parties and public.

After the CCPA meeting, Parliamentary Affairs Ministers Pawan Kumar Bansal said the committee decided to recommend to the President to convene the monsoon session from August 1 to September 8.

Asked why the session was delayed, Bansal said, “There have been instances in the past also where the session has been held in August.” Apart from the Lokpal bill,  the Food Security Bill and Land Acquisition Bill are also likely to be taken up during the session. Interestingly, the government was struggling to arrive at a consensus on both bills.

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