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Manmohan Singh to make statement as govt. invites public suggestions on Lokpal Bill

August 20, 2011 - New Delhi

Television channels are reporting that the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, is expected to make a statement in short while from now, reflecting the government's response to civil rights activist Anna Hazare's demand to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill by August 30, failing which, he will continue his fast "till my last breath".

In a new strategy, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice that is looking into the Lokpal Bill today, has invited suggestions from individuals and organisations.

The committee headed by noted lawyer and Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi has decided to invite memoranda containing the views and suggestions from the individuals and organisations interested in the subject matter of the Bill and also to hear select oral evidence on the subject matter of the Bill.

Those desirous of submitting memoranda to the committee have been asked to send a letter within fifteen days of the publication of the announcement. The committee has also asked for those, who are willing to appear before the committee for oral evidence besides submitting the memorandum, to indicate the same.

There is a view that two private member's bills - introduced by Varun Feroze Gandhi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Lok Sabha and independent member Rajiv Chandrashekhar in the Rajya Sabha-can offer a way out.

Varun Gandhi, according to the Times Now channel, plans to move the Jan Lokpal Bill as his bill, while Chandrashekhar's bill has incorporated features of civil society's version of the legislation.

Since the grouse of the civil society is that Parliament won't get to debate the merits of their bill, the two private members' bills can give the two Houses an opportunity to assess the merits of the two rival pieces of legislation, potentially clearing the way for a resolution.

However, procedures and conventions may come in the way. A private member's bill can be introduced in the House only after a month's notice.

While Varun Gandhi hasn't yet formally sought the Speaker's permission to move the bill, Chandrashekhar submitted his bill in the first week of August. So, neither has a month's time to be taken up for adoption in this session. Still, extraordinary situations often lead to "creative" solutions. Perhaps, with the House's permission, the process may be fast-tracked.

Meanwhile, the Congress has expressed its readiness to talk to Team Anna if it formally approaches the government over the Lokpal issue.

An indication to this effect was available after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired an hour-long meeting with senior ministers to take stock of the situation arising out of Anna Hazare's fast at Ramlila Ground. Apart from the prime minister, the meeting of the Congress Core Committee was attended by all other members including Union Ministers Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambaram, A K Antony and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel.

Party sources were quoted, as saying that they have no problem in holding negotiations with Team Anna if they express readiness for the same.

Several party leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said the government should re-engage Team Anna in talks.


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