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NEW DELHI: The Prime Minister's Office (PMO), late on Monday evening, issued an appeal to noted social worker Anna Hazare to abandon the hunger strike he had announced he would resort to, starting Tuesday, to force the government to accept his version of the Lokpal Bill.
The appeal came a few hours after the National Advisory Council (NAC)'s Working Group on Transparency and Accountability met civil society groups, including some of Mr. Hazare's colleagues in the India against Corruption, Arvind Kejriwal, Swami Agnivesh and former Supreme Court judge N. Santosh Hegde, to carry forward the discussion on the Lokpal Bill.
The appeal stresses that “The Prime Minister has enormous respect for Shri Hazare and his mission.”
Earlier in the day at the NAC's Working Group meeting, the discussions centred round the key issue of whether the proposed Lokpal Bill should restrict itself to corruption in high places or whether it should cover all malpractices, big and small.
Aruna Roy, who heads the Working Group, felt that if the ambit of the bill was widened, the Lokpal may not be able to cope with the volume of complaints that would flow in. However, NAC member Harsh Mander reportedly said that such a bill would be meaningless if it did not deal with the corruption that affected the lives of the poor. This view was reflected in the Jan Lokpal Bill, drafted by Mr. Hegde, Mr. Kejriwal and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, the one that Mr. Hazare is pressing to have accepted.
The meeting also discussed the selection process and the need to ensure that people of integrity were picked, as well as whether the Lokpal should focus on individual acts of corruption or also on systemic reforms and integrity audits, said NAC sources.
The broad consensus was that the government's draft bill was too weak to adequately tackle the massive corruption cases currently in the headlines, and that all arms of the government — executive, legislature and judiciary — should be put under the scanner.
RTI and Lokpal Bill
Former Chief Information Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, who was invited to Monday's meeting, told The Hindu that the discussions centred round the idea that while the Right to Information Act had increased transparency, it had not addressed the question of accountability and redress — and that is what the Lokpal Bill should seek to do.
The next step, sources said, would be the setting up of a drafting committee which would look at the two versions as well as inputs coming in from civil society groups before formulating a bill.
Meanwhile, the PMO appeal pointed out that at the meeting Mr. Hazare and his colleagues had with the Prime Minister, the Law Minister and other senior officials on March 7, 2011, Dr. Singh had said: “I appreciate and share your concern on corruption.”
The Prime Minister had subsequently accepted Mr. Hazare's suggestion that a sub-committee of the Group of Ministers could interact with civil society activists and discuss the draft which they had given him.
The sub-committee, headed by Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony, “had met Mr. Hazare's colleagues but the interaction proved fruitless as the activists insisted on the government accepting their draft in full.”
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