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Lokpal Bill: Stakeholders appeal for a meeting minds for resolution


August 20, 2011 - New Delhi

Saturday, the fifth day of the indefinite fast commenced by well known social activist and anti-graft campaigner Anna Hazare saw a cross-section of society, including stakeholders, politicians, parliamentarians, ministers, activists and others giving their views on the issue of corruption, and what would be the most effective way to tackle the menace.

The day began with Congress spokesperson and chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Lokpal Bill, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, inviting the views of stakeholders, activists and others to ensure an effective anti-graft legislation.

"We have already had a very positive, detailed discussion with members of the civil society. This is just the beginning. We have now, as established procedure for decades, in England for centuries, invited views of diverse stakeholders, and we will look at everything very carefully," said Singhvi.

"It will then be followed by witness evidence and hearings and then, clause by clause, the attempt of the committee will be to take all the ideal elements from each proposal, be it Lokpal or Jan Lokpal or any third proposal, and try to create the best, the strongest Bill, according to our understanding," he added.

"This is a very serious, it is not a formal exercise. We take our jobs seriously and we will do it clause by clause," he said further.

Though the government had appointed the joint drafting committee of the Lokpal Bill in April 2011, after Hazare went on an indefinite hunger strike against corruption in New Delhi, the legislation was presented before parliament on August 4.

Civil society activists have repeatedly slammed the government's draft version as 'toothless and ineffective' as it does not include the prime minister, judges and the lawmakers in its ambit.

Former Supreme court judge and Karnataka Lokayukta Justice (retired) Santosh Hegde demanded that the government must accept the Jan Lokpal Bill formulated by civil society, while at the same time admitting and accepting parliament's right to debate it and make into law.

"Our only demand is, let the Jan Lokpal (Ombudsman) Bill also go before the Parliament, let the Parliament discuss. Ultimately, Parliament will make it and if we are not satisfied with them, we will go to the court," said Justice (retired) Hegde.

"Everybody knows ultimate law is to be made by the Parliament; there is no difficulty about that. So, let them not teach us all that may be while speaking because of emotions that are coming out, the way they have insulted us with all those factors, but law has to be made by the Parliament. Law cannot be made by anyone of us for that matter. This is a suggestion; we have a right to give a suggestion to the Parliament," he added.

He further said: "Parliament is there to make law. While making the law should it not take views of different sections of the society? Parliament, which has an absolute majority, will listen to only its views, but here is a Parliament, which is consisting of different political parties with substantial representation from different political wings and other. So let them all know what it is. What the government of the ruling party say is you go and convince each member, 540 odd members are there. Is it practically possible or if we call a meeting of all of them for a seminar, will they come, they will not come."

However, V. Narayanasamy, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), countered Justice Hegde's view by saying: "If anybody criticizes the Parliament Standing Committee and, if they cause obstruction in the Standing Committee, it is clearly breach of privilege."

He further added: "The Members of Parliament who are sitting in the committee are like Members of Parliament who are functioning inside Parliament. Therefore, the rights and privileges of the members are there, and, if anybody criticizes the functioning of the Standing Committee, it is a clear case of breach of privilege."

Rajeev Shukla, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, said: "I think, it is highly inappropriate to question the functioning and proceedings of the Indian Parliament. Members of the Standing Committee of the Parliament represent various political parties in the country and it is incorrect to question or malign them. They discuss core issues and have also asked for public view on the Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill.

"I do not think there is anything wrong with it. To call the proceedings of the Parliament as misleading and a waste of time is incorrect in my viewpoint. It is now for the common man to decide who is wrong and arrogant," he added.

Congress lawmaker Naveen Jindal said: "If someone is trying to wishfully malign the proceedings of the Indian Parliament and call it a waste of time, then I think that person is unaware of the system and functioning of the Indian Parliament."

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker Mocha Abbas Naqvi, however, said: "It is our (lawmakers) responsibility that we get out of the web of laws, rules and regulations to ensure the passage of the Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill."

He added: "We need to put the laws aside and give this issue priority status. For this, either a special parliamentary session should be held. If needed, the current session could be extended or a special session comprising members from both houses of the Indian parliament must be held to table, discuss and pass the Bill at the earliest."

He also said that with each passing day, mass anger against corruption is increasing.

"To ensure that this public anger does not tarnish the reputation of Indian democracy, it is important that the government, after having neglected the woes of the people and its responsibilities, awakens and does not make it a prestige issue," he said.

"The kind of mass movement and public support that has emerged against corruption across the country is unparalleled. We salute the spirited campaign spearheaded by Anna Hazare. We also feel that neither is it fair to criticize him, nor would it in any way affect the campaign against corruption."

Swami Agnivesh, an associate of Hazare, told the public gathered at the Ramlila ground that: "Without making them smell chloroform our ministers were unconscious and now their intoxicated state has been removed by Anna Hazare."

He added: "Tell them (the government) to quickly register a case against us, and call us in the Parliament and we will tell as to why we consider them (the lawmakers) useless. We don't call them useless but the Bill that the government has presented before the parliament is totally useless and is not even worthy of throwing in the dust bin, and why is it that they are still holding the Bill so close to themselves?"

He also criticized Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, saying that as the Delhi Police worked under the directions of his ministry, he was responsible for the arrest of Anna Hazare and not the Delhi Police.

"Where there was insult, Chidambaram blamed it on the Delhi Police and when he was released, and today in the newspaper, it has come to notice that he told the Delhi Police to do so," Agnivesh said.

He added: "There is nothing left with the government because the Opposition members who are part of the Standing Committee have rejected the government's version of the Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill. Now there is no use of the Standing Committee."he Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, sought to bring reason to tempest created by the anti-graft movement against his government, saying that intense criticism notwithstanding, his government desired a 'strong and effective' Lokpal Bill.

"We are all in favour of a Lokpal (ombudsman) which is strong, which is effective, and therefore, there is a lot of scope for give and take. Our hope is that we can enlist the cooperation of all thinking segments of Indian public opinion to ensure that the end product is a strong and effective Lokpal which all sections of our community want," Dr. Singh said.

India is ranked 87th of 178 countries in the list of the world's most corrupt nations, according to a 2010 survey of Transparency International.

Graft has long been a part of daily life, but the recent scandals - which include violations in granting telecom licenses that cost the country 39 billion dollar in lost revenue and the Commonwealth Games fiasco- are unprecedented.

ANI

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