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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lokpal BIll: Jail Bharo, Says Anna Hazare Amid Fears Of His Eviction

From Breakthrough To Breakdown

Encouraged By All-Party Assertion That Parliament Is Supreme, UPA Hardens Stand 

New Delhi: Blow hot, blow cold. In fact, the breeze that wafted from the government turned so icy on Wednesday that it threatened to virtually deep-freeze the talks between it and Team Anna. Assurances held out on Tuesday were withdrawn and concern for Anna's health was dismissed, said Team Anna members, while government leaders told them that the parliamentary process wouldn't be shortened to rush through the Lokpal Bill. 
    Hopes of a resolution to the standoff dipped sharply as there was no movement on the sticking points. The allparty meeting appears to have emboldened the government as it merely appealed to Anna Hazare to call off his fast while clarifying that the government should not rush through an amended Lokpal Bill. On its part, the government agreed to replace the current bill with a new legislation, incorporating some features of Team Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill. 
    Meanwhile, police presence has been sharply increased at the Ramlila Maidan, raising fears of the Gandhian being forcibly removed from the grounds. Kejriwal expressed the fears while appealing to the people to maintain peace. Government sources, too, admitted that some "intervention" might become inevitable. 
    Late at night at 11.30pm, Anna addressed the vast crowd, repeatedly urging it to ensure peace. He said if the government wanted to pick him up, he would readily submit to the authorities. Any violence, he said, would defeat their movement. He told his followers to embark on a "jail bharo" agitation if he was arrested and peacefully picket government leaders and parliamentarians. 

    Speaking at an iftaar he hosted, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told journalists, "We are caught in a bind, and we have to get out of it." 
    Government sources asserted that the Jan Lokpal Bill could not be the sole reference point for an anti-graft law. They also rejected Team Anna's demand that the Lokpal Bill be passed within the next four days after extending the current session of Parliament, bypassing scrutiny by the Standing Committee. Emerging after a meeting with Pranab Mukherjee and Salman Khurshid, civil society representatives said, "We are back to where we were, and we will have to start from the scratch." 
    Prashant Bhushan, Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi claimed 
that the government representatives also brushed aside any concern for Anna's health, saying that it was the headache of members of civil society. 
Cracks emerge in BJP over soft line 

    The BJP received a jolt on Wednesday with three MPs, including senior leader Yashwant Sinha, accusing the party of not being serious about corruption and offering to quit their Lok Sabha seats. Sinha, along with former actor Shatrughan Sinha and Uday Singh, sprung a surprise at the BJP parliamentary party meeting. Sinha said the BJP was unable to take a strong stand on the Lokpal issue without which it was not possible to "take the battle (against corruption) forward". P 15 

LOWER BUREAUCRACY | Team Anna says entire bureaucracy should come under Lokpal, not just higher bureaucracy, because day-to-day pain felt by citizens is often from lower bureaucracy. Government says it is impossible to cover 40 lakh employees without creating a mammoth structure, which is undesirable 
CITIZENS' CHARTER | Team Anna says this would define time-frame for tasks of public offices (say, a ration card should be given in 3 days, or passport in 15 days) and it must be spelt out in Lokpal Bill. Failure to meet deadline should lead to fines. Govt says this should be included in separate Grievances Redressal Bill, and there should be no fines 
LOKAYUKTAS | Team Anna says all states must have this state-level anti-corruption mechanism. Right now only 18 states have it, and of them, many are defunct. Govt says these are matters for the state govts to decide and Centre has no say. Team Anna disagrees 
JAN LOKPAL BILL | Team Anna wants its version of the bill to be considered and adopted by Parliament. Govt says Parliament is supreme and it can consider all versions, including the MCPRI version as well as Jan Lokpal Bill. NCPRI Bill visualizes different ombudsmen for judiciary, lower bureaucracy, govt leaders and higher bureaucracy, and grievance redressal 
PARLIAMENTARY PROCESS | Team Anna demands that an amended draft bill should be debated by entire Parliament, and not sent to Standing Committee. It wants a definite time-frame for passing bill. Govt says bill will go to Standing Committee as process can't be short-circuited. However, it says some time-frame can be given 

10.55AM | Anna speaks at Ramlila Maidan, doubts govt sincerity in combating corruption 
11.30AM | Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi meet Salman Khurshid and Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit 
12 NOON | Debate on corruption in Parliament, Oppn attacks govt for mishandling stir
3.30PM | All-party meeting appeals to Hazare to call off fast, but doesn't want Jan Lokpal Bill to be rushed through 
8.15PM | Pranab and Khurshid meet Kejriwal & Co for another round of talks. At 10pm, the shaken Team Anna reps come out, say talks have virtually broken down 
PC argued for hard line in talks 
    The government has clarified that while Parliament is ready to consider the Jan Lokpal Bill, it will also consider other versions of the antigraft bill like the one prepared by Aruna Roy's MCPRI. All these versions, said sources, would be vetted by the Standing Committee which would hammer out a "strong Lokpal Bill." In all this there was an obvious tacit admission: the bill earlier brought in Parliament by the government was virtually a lemon. 
    The government's tough posture on Thursday came against the backdrop of hardening of mood in the face of Hazare's pressure tactics. The decision not to give in was taken at a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs held after Team Anna's talks with Pranab Mukherjee and Khurshid. Sources said at the meeting home minister P Chidambaram strongly argued for ahard line in the government's dealings with Team Anna. Responding to Anna group's demand that the bill be passed in four days after extending the Monsoon session beyond September 8, the PM said on Thursday, "This is their suggestion. This does not mean we have to accept everything." Although he underlined "there is scope for give-and-take", the comment reflected a new firmness.

HARD-AND-FAST RULES THE DAY: A young supporter of Anna Hazare at the Ramlila ground on Wednesday


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