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Significant victory

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Manmohan Singh, current prime minister of India.

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Parliament’s unanimous adoption of a resolution agreeing “in principle” with Team Anna’s position on the three sticking points that prolonged the standoff on the Lokpal legislation is a triumph for the anti-corruption mood in the country — and for the Gandhian technique of non-violent mass agitation on issues of vital concern to the people. Anna Hazare and his team deserve full credit for recognising and riding this popular mood, which showed plenty of signs of becoming a wave; for giving concrete shape to the inchoate aspirations of the movement against corruption through the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill; and for working out a strategy and tactics that refused to compromise on the core issues but knew when to raise the stakes and when to settle. As for the political players, the major opposition parties did well to recognise the soundness of the core demands of Team Anna and keep up the pressure on the government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the politically savvy elements in the United Progressive Alliance regime can also take some credit for the way they finally acted to resolve this crisis.

What is clear to everyone — except the unreconstructed elements within the political system who have long been opposed to a strong, independent, and effective statutory authority to go after corruption at all levels — is that the Lokpal Bill that was introduced in Parliament by the government and is now before a Standing Committee lies thoroughly discredited. The government must not be guided by those in its ranks who advocate some kind of rearguard action in committee or on the floor of the House to go back on commitments made. The fact is that in sum, that is, in the parliamentary resolution and during the preceding rounds of discussion with Team Anna, the government conceded the following key demands. In addition to Ministers, Members of Parliament (subject to Article 105 of the Constitution), and Group ‘A’ officers, the Prime Minister at one end and the lower bureaucracy at the other will be brought under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal. Secondly, under the same statute, strong and effective Lokayuktas on the same model as the Lokpal will be established in all States. Team Anna contends that no constitutional problem is involved here since the Lokpal legislation deals with substantive and procedural criminal law, which is covered by Entries 1 and 2 of the Concurrent List in the Constitution. The bottom-line is that it makes no sense to have a strong and effective Lokpal to investigate and prosecute central public servants for corruption while having defunct or no Lokayuktas in States. Thirdly, the Lokpal legislation will provide for a grievance redressal system, requiring all public authorities to prepare a citizen’s charter and make commitments to be met within a specified time frame. Constitutionally speaking, these arrangements are covered by Entry 8 of the Concurrent List dealing with actionable wrongs. Whether the Lokpal or another authority established under the same law will oversee this grievance redressal system remains an open question. For its part, Team Anna has agreed that judges need not come under the Lokpal provided a credible and independent Judicial Conduct Commission, free from conflict of interest and empowered to investigate and prosecute charges of corruption against judges, is established by law. Unfortunately, the contentious issue of a selection committee for the Lokpal could not be resolved. But considering that virtually everyone outside the UPA seems opposed to the official Lokpal Bill’s provision that the government will nominate five of the nine members of the selection committee, this can probably be regarded as a dead letter.

There are some excellent provisions in the Jan Lokpal Bill that have gone mostly unnoticed. For instance, Section 6(o) provides that the Lokpal can recommend the cancellation or modification of a lease, licence, permission, contract or agreement obtained from a public authority by corrupt means; if the public authority rejects the recommendation, the Lokpal can “approach [the] appropriate High Court for seeking appropriate directions to be given to the public authority.” It can also press for the blacklisting of those involved in acts of corruption. Then there is Section 31(1), which stipulates that “no government official shall be eligible to take up jobs, assignments, consultancies, etc. with any person, company, or organisation that he had dealt with in his official capacity.” Section 31(2) provides that “all contracts, public-private partnerships, transfer by way of sale, lease, and any form of largesse by any public authority shall be done with complete transparency and by calling for public tender/auction/bids unless it is an emergency measure or where it is not possible to do so for reasons to be recorded in writing.” And Section 31(3) requires that “all contracts, agreements or MOUs known by any name related to transfer of natural resources, including land and mines to any private entity by any method like public-private partnerships, sale, lease or any form of largesse by any public authority shall be put on the website within a week of being signed.”

In appraising what has happened over the past fortnight, a red herring needs to be got out of the way — the idea of the ‘supremacy of Parliament‘ versus everyone who comes up against it. Parliamentarians who assert this need to learn their Constitution. In India, unlike Britain, Parliament is not supreme; the Constitution is. Nor is law-making “the sole prerogative” of Parliament. The significant victory of the anti-corruption campaigners gives political India a rare opportunity to translate fine anti-corruption sentiments into a potent law that can be a game-changer. The challenge before the people of India is to ensure, by keeping up the pressure, that in the tricky business of law making in committee and on the floor of the Houses of Parliament a potentially powerful instrument is not blunted.

COURTESY: THE HINDU

Jan Lokpal Bill: Need serious consideration on Anna’s three conditions, says Pranab

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Pranab Mukherjee, Indian politician, current F...

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Observing that the nation was at “cross-roads” in view of Anna Hazare’s campaign, government today asked Parliament to consider the Gandhian‘s three key demands on Lokpal Bill within Constitutional framework and by preserving Parliament’s supremacy.

Making identical statements in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to form the basis for a debate, Finance MinisterPranab Mukherjee said the issues raised by Hazare are “important” and “genuine” which “deserve our serious consideration”.

As Hazare’s fast entered 12th day, Mukherjee said the situation was “moving out of hand” and “crisis” had been created as he asked lawmakers to “seize the moment and demonstrate the commitment” in dealing with corruption which is “gnawing at the vitals of our polity”.

He said Parliament needed to discuss (i) whether the jurisdiction of the Lokpal should cover all employees of the Central government, (ii) whether it will be applicable through the institution of the Lok Ayukt in all states, and (iii) whether the Lokpal should have the power to punish all those who violate the ‘grievance redressal mechanism’ to be put in place.

These are the aspects that Hazare and his team are demanding to be included in the Lokpal Bill.

“In case a consensus emerges at the end of the discussions, the Standing Committee will, in the course of their deliberations, take into account their practicability, implementability and constitutionality.

“For, everything that we do, must be consistent with the principles enshrined within our Constitutional framework,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee wanted Lok Sabha to consider whether Lokpal should have power to punish those who violate ‘grievance redressal mechanism’.

“The standing committee can take up their practicality, constitutionality and implementability,” Mukherjee said.

In the Rajya Sabha, Pranab said that the issues on which Hazare is agitating are genuine. Mukherjee said situation created by Hazare’s agitation is “moving out of hand” and crisis has been created.

Team Anna and the government held another round of talks here today to end the deadlock over the Lokpal Bill prior to the debate on the issue in Parliament.

Team Anna members Prashant Bhushan and Medha Patkar met Law Minister Salman Khurshid here and discussed issues which the government could take up in Parliament during the debate.

“Only thing that has been discussed is what will come up before Parliament…we have already give Anna’s letter to him,” Patkar told reporters after the meeting.

Noting that dialogue between both sides was on, she said Hazare and his team have not gone back on their three key demands — all civil servants should be brought under Lokpal, a Citizen Charter should be displayed at all government offices and all states should have Lokayuktas.

“We are still on the same three points, which really matters. The government is responding. Now it is not only the government, it is also the opposition parties. All are positive about the process,” she said.

She said every MP is concerned about Anna’s health. The agitation will continue as has been made clear by Anna. There is no question of ending the protest, she added.

Fasting Anna Hazare today broke his silence of nearly 38 hours and addressed his supporters declaring that he will continue his protest till his last breath for a strong anti-corruption law.

Amid mounting worries over the 74-year-old Gandhian’s health, Hazare said he could fast for another “three-four days” and “nothing will happen to him”.

Hazare, who did not address his supporters since 8 pm on August 25, emerged on the dais at around 10 am to a loud cheer from supporters who raised slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.

“I am not doing this for my personal gain. If it was so, I would not have lasted five days. Till Jan Lokpal Bill is passed, my protest will continue,” the Gandhian told his supporters at Ramlila Maidan where he is sitting on a fast.

He said he was getting energy from those who are coming out in support of the cause and this energy will help him sustain for three-four more days. “Till Jan Lokpal Bill is passed, I won’t die,” he said in his speech that lasted for five minutes.

Hazare said he was surprised at the manner in which the country has responded to his call while referring to a person who was sporting a tattoo on his shoulder that stated that he was the supporter of the Gandhian.

“I am surprised that a ‘fakir’ is getting this support. It is not me who is doing all this. God has pointed fingers at me. He has chosen me to do the work. It is he who is doing all this. I am praised for what I am doing. A ‘fakir’ should not be praised so much,” he said.

COURTESY: THE ECONOMIC TIMES

Manmohan for strong, effective Lokpal Bill

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PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH

Affirming his commitment for a strong and effective Lokpal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday said there is a “dynamic” in the legislative process which takes time.

In an apparent reference to Mr. Anna Hazare demand for passing the Jan Lokpal by this month-end, Singh said he does not want to controvert anything that was being said on it.

He said all the parties should work together to push for a “strong and effective” Lokpal and remove the “obstacles” in the way.

Observing that there was a “lot of scope for give and take”, the Prime Minister said the government was “open to discussion and dialogue” as it wants a national consensus to emerge.

“We are all in favour of a Lokpal, which is strong, which is effective,” he told a group of journalists after a full Planning Commission meeting while answering questions on the Hazare agitation.

“We are open to, I think, discussion and dialogue. We would like…a broad national consensus to emerge,” Dr. Singh underlined.

“Therefore there is a lot of scope for give and take. Our hope is that we can enlist the cooperation of all thinking segements of Indian public opinion to ensure that the end product is a strong and effective Lokpal which all sections of our community want,” he said.

He noted that the government had presented a Lokpal Bill in Parliament which was the demand of all political parties voiced at a conference convened by him.

“They (parties) said we cannot give you our view point unless and until you come out with a draft. We have fulfilled that obligation,” he said.

Panel seek suggestions

Earlier a Parliamentary committee examining the Lokpal Bill on Saturday sought suggestions from public within 15 days, making it clear that the August 30 deadline set by Anna Hazare on passing the anti-corruption legislation would not be met.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice and Personnel issued an advertisement in dailies outlining salient features of the Bill and asking people to send their opinions and suggestions within 15 days.

While 15 days is the standard time given by Parliamentary panels to people or organisations to send feedback on bills, the time-frame in this case makes it clear that the deadline of August 30 set by Mr. Hazare for passing the Lokpal Bill will not be met.

Soon after the bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on August 4, the Rajya Sabha Chairman had referred it to the Committee and given it three months to give recommendations.

The Standing Committee on Law and Justice and Personnel is serviced by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat and is headed by a Rajya Sabha member — in this case Abhishek Manu Singhvi.

Soon after the bill was referred to it, the Committee had invited team Hazare to place its views before the panel. The Hazare team appeared before the Committee later.

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram recently said Mr. Hazare was free to give his views to the panel once again.

Reacting to the newspaper advertisement, Mr. Hazare`s associate Arvind Kejriwal said it appeared to be an exercise which will waste the time of people and Parliamentarians.

“We appeared before the Standing Committee earlier and told them that the present bill is actually for promotion of corruption and save the corrupt people,” he said.

Anna Hazare’s August 16 agitation unjustified: Govt

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Government today said that Anna Hazare‘s plan to go on fast from August 16 on Lokpal issue is “unjustified” at this stage, when it is moving forward on the passage of the bill.

“At this stage an extra Parliamentary protest seems unjustified,” Home Minister P Chidambaram said when asked how the government views Hazare’s proposed agitation at a time when the draft bill for Lokpal is being deliberated before the Standing Committee.

Noting that “everybody has a right to protest and the context and circumstances will decide whether the protest was right or not”, Chidamabram said Hazare team’s earlier fast, when the Lokpal bill was not in place, was perhaps right but not now when a bill has already been introduced in Parliament and the government has “moved forward” on it.

Addressing a press briefing of the Group of Ministers on Media, the Union minister said that the government’s draft Lokpal bill will receive many suggestions in the Standing Committee as well as in Parliament from the opposition parties and some of these may also be accommodated.

To another question on whether the government can intervene in case Hazare’s health is affected, the home minister said, “Certainly, if anyone’s life is in danger, the government has not only a duty but a right to intervene.”

He was, however quick to add that the statement was not in context of Hazare but a general one.

To queries about the delay in permission to Hazare to hold fast and how the government intends to tackle the stir, the home minister said that the matter rests with Delhi police commissioner and the government was “not tackling or pushing any one”.

“I think we are jumping the gun. He wants to have a protest fast and has applied for permission before the Delhi Police. The application is under process. Police commissioner has to decide. See what he decides,” he said.

Asked about Team Anna’s claims of 90 per cent support in Rahul Gandhi‘s constituency Amethi for Jan Lokpal Bill, the home minister said that he can only repeat what Union Minister Kapil Sibal had earlier said that “we are surprised it is not 100 per cent”.

The home minister said people of the country are “reasonably satisfied” with the government moving forward on the Lokpal Bill.

Asked whether the ministers can claim to have gauged the mood of the voters in their constituencies on the Lokpal issue especially in the backdrop of Team Anna’s surveys in Amethi and Chandani Chowk showing people’s support for Jan Lokpal Bill, Chidambaram said that there are no such methods before MPs to conduct any referendum.

There is also no legal mechanism for it but the interactions with party workers and voters give an indication that people are satisfied with the government’s initiative on the issue, he said.