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Government, Team Anna hold talks, PM promises 'best possible' Lokpal bill

Tuesday August 23, 2011 08:41:00 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: Faced with countrywide support for Anna Hazare's campaign for a stronger Lokpal bill, the government Tuesday opened formal negotiations with Team Anna as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed to the social activist to end his his eight-day hunger strike and assured that steps will be taken to place his version of the anti-graft bill in parliament.

On Tuesday evening, the government mediator and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee opened talks in his North Block office with Team Anna's key members - Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. Mukherjee was assisted by Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Congress MP Sandeep Dikshit.

Khurshid had held talks with Kejriwal earlier in the day, but the latter said there was no progress even as the civil society protests peaked with Hazare's supporters holding demonstrations outside the residences of MPs across the country.

Determined to break the deadlock over the ballooning agitation led by Hazare, the Congress pulled out all stops to end the row and appealed for "flexibility and restraint" from all stakeholders on the Lokpal bill. The United Progressive Alliance government called an all-party meeting Wednesday to break the logjam. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh amid intensified efforts to find common ground on the contentious Lokpal bill.

Manmohan Singh, who only a couple of days ago had said he was ready for give and take, threw his full weight behind the resolution of the festering crisis and shot off a 500-word letter to Hazare, expressing his "increasing concern" over his health and assured him of justice to his Jan Lok Pal bill.

"Our government is prepared to request (Lok Sabha) Speaker (Meira Kumar) to formally refer the Jan Lokpal Bill to the standing committee for their holistic consideration alongwith everything else," he wrote. "I do hope that you will consider my suggestions and end your fast to regain full health and vitality," the prime minister said.

He said only the paths and methodologies taken by the government and Hazare's team were different. "The government is committed to passing a constitutionally valid and the best possible Lok Pal legislation with inputs from civil society with the broadest possible consensus. We are ready to talk to anybody," he said.

Treading a middle path, the prime minister also reiterated that parliamentary supremacy and constitutional obligations in matters of legislation should be kept in mind. He said that all options were open before the standing committee, which is already considering the government's version of the Lokpal bill.

"Undoubtedly, they would be entitled to consider, in detail and clause by clause, subject to their discretion, not only the bill introduced by us but the Jan Lokpal Bill and other versions like those prepared by (social activist) Aruna Roy.

He said the standing committee was "fully entitled" to make any changes to the bill introduced by the government.

"In that view of the matter, the formal non introduction of the Jan Lokpal Bill version by the government is irrelevant and would largely boil down to a semantic debate," Manmohan Singh said.

He said the government could request the panel to try and fast track their deliberations on the bill to "the extent reasonably feasible".

"I would like to say that this letter and each suggestion herein is actuated solely by the twin considerations of deep and genuine concern about your health and the emergence of a strong and effective Lok Pal Act in accordance with established constitutional precept and practice," he said.

Appealing for flexibility after the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were adjourned for the day Tuesday, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi commended the government for sending the Lokpal bill to a parliamentary standing committee, and said wide ranging discussion and consultations could be held to make the legislation stronger and effective.

"All stakeholders show flexibility and restraint. All stakeholders should give the committee a fair chance. It may, in fact, surprise all critics," he promised.
Singhvi also welcomed all efforts, official or unofficial, to hold dialogue with protesting Hazare's team members to end the impasse over the Lokpal bill.

Asked for his reaction to Hazare's demand for passing the civil society activists' version of the Lokpal bill in parliament before Aug 30, Singhvi said: "Anything that seems perfunctory, not debated upon and done overnight, will be highly criticised."

He said under parliamentary methods, all legislation needed "due consideration". The parliamentary committee, however, can take shorter time for debating a piece of legislation, he said, noting that the panel, headed by him, held its first meeting "unusually fast" in the parliamentary system.

Singhvi said the committee will consider different views on the provisions of the Lokpal bill, but to what extent those suggestions would be accepted was anybody's guess at this point of time.




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