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Saturday, 10 December 2011

Hazare team rejects Lok Pal report to begin stir

The report of the standing committee on the government’s Lok Pal Bill was tabled in Parliament on Friday and resoundingly rejected by the Anna Hazare group, which has threatened agitation this Sunday and then a congregation at Ramlila Maidan from December 27.

Supporters of the Hazare-led India Against Corruption (IAC) have told Business Standard the new round of agitation will be ‘even bigger and better’ than the previous one and plans were afoot to make it an all-India affair.

 This is after the report of the standing committee partially addressed many of the issues earlier flagged by the IAC. The report has several dissent notes, including three from Congress members themselves. The report also leaves it to Parliament to resolve whether and how the Prime Minister should come within the purview of the proposed ombudsman. It suggests a separate bill for a grievance redressal mechanism, which should have statutory status.
It recommends leaving the conduct of MPs inside Parliament out of the Lok Pal purview and wants statutory status for the Lok Pal, with state Lok Ayuktas being covered under a separate chapter in the same bill. The states, it says, would be free to draft their own Lok Ayukta law that would cover the chief minister.

On all this, the IAC is flexible. What it is inflexible about are two provisions – what treatment the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should get from the Lok Pal and how the lower bureaucracy – specifically group C and D employees that include patwaris, panchayat officials and peons – should be treated. The standing committee says group C and D employees will, according to government plans, be merged – and all will be counted as group C. They should come within the jurisdiction of the Central Vigilance Commission, which has a huge administrative machinery but will have little to do once the Lok Pal is established. CVC should report to the Lok Pal on corruption in this category of government employees.

Thus, the committee is loath to dismantle existing institutions to check corruption. But it does create new ones.

On the CBI, the committee wants it to be autonomous of the government. So, the practice of taking sanctions from the government against corrupt officials will be done away with. The CBI will report to the Lok Pal but not be subordinate to it and investigation and prosecution will be hived off into separate wings. Prosecution will be done under a Lok Pal judge.

IAC members were scathing on these recommendations. Lawyer Prashant Bhushan called it a “hotch potch” Bill, which was likely to increase rather than reduce corruption. Arvind Kejriwal called it “a more or less Congress report”, with seven of the 12 members supporting the Bill from that party. “We had plans to go on an agitation and fast from December 27 if the Parliament failed to pass a strong Lok Pal Bill in the current session. We are sticking to our plan,” the Hazare supporters said

Hazare added from his Ralegan Siddhi village in Maharashtra that the committee had fooled the people by keeping the government Bill largely intact.

The report was supported fully by just 12 out of 30 members, of which seven were from the Congress. While 16 dissented, two never attended. So much for its credibility, said Kejriwal.

The team would now observe a day’s fast at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Sunday. “We are trying to evolve a consensus among different parties and have also called for their participation in the dharna,” team members said.

Hazare’s public statement indicated he had nothing against the Prime Minister or Congress president Sonia Gandhi (who is indisposed) and that it was Rahul Gandhi’s utterances that showed the government was not serious about bringing back probity to public life.

He also said the effect of his campaign would be visible in Uttar Pradesh in the run-up to the assembly elections there early next year.


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