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Meet on Lokpal Bill ends amid major differences

Monday May 30, 2011 08:17:22 PM, IANS

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New Delhi: A meeting between ministers and civil society leaders on the Lokpal Bill ended Monday on a bitter note, with activists accusing the government of not being serious about fighting corruption.

After a three-hour meeting of the 10-member drafting committee, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal gave guarded reactions but anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal tore into the government.

Kejriwal said it was unacceptable that the government now wanted the prime minister, judiciary, MPs as well as officers below the rank of joint secretaries out of the purview of the proposed Lokpal.

He wanted to know if this official proposal -- which came as a jolt to Gandhian Anna Hazare and his team -- enjoyed the backing of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"We request the prime minister and (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi to say whether this is the official stand of the government or just the stand of these five ministers?" a furious Kejriwal asked on TimesNow.

He added: "We are not ready for a weak Lokpal bill. This country is not ready for a weak Lokpal bill."

Sibal tried to underplay the differences at the meeting by saying that the government was "constructively looking at issues of divergence".

He agreed that corruption concerned everyone and people wanted a strong law to battle it. He also said that the government too wanted an effective mechanism to battle graft.

At the same time, Sibal said any Lokpal bill had to be in conformity with the provisions of the constitution and that the government needed to discuss certain issues with states and political parties.

The government representatives at the meeting were cabinet ministers Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, M. Veerappa Moily, Salman Khurshid and Sibal.

The ministers argued the Lokpal bill would not cover MPs charged with taking bribes to ask questions in parliament.

Civil society activists said it was not fair to bring only about 2,000 senior bureaucrats within the purview of the Lokpal bill while saying that no one below the rank of joint secretary could be probed.

Kejriwal said he and his colleagues were also against the government's idea of not giving autonomy to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).

"We found the response of the government not very reasonable," said Prashant Bhushan, one of the four people who assisted Anna Hazare at the meeting. "We are a bit disappointed."

The government argued that a probe against the prime minister could render the post "dysfunctional".

Bhushan said they could never agree to government suggestions that the conduct of MPs should be left to self regulation. He countered: "It's best left to Lokpal."

Kejriwal said they would not compromise on the issue of the prime minister's office and judiciary coming within the ambit of the Lokpal but quickly added that Manmohan Singh was a honest man.

Monday's meeting was the fifth between the government and civil society representatives. The next meetings are scheduled for June 6 and 10.

The government agreed to form a 10-member team to draft the proposed Lokpal Bill after a hunger strike by Anna Hazare here in April evoked mass protests across the country.




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