No consensus in sight as Lokpal panel meets.


2 May 2011
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New Delhi: After seven unsuccessful meetings of the Lokpal Bill, the government and civil society representatives of the joint drafting committee will meet for the eighth time on Monday to draft an anti-corruption bill that both sides agree on. The Cabinet met on Sunday to decide its strategy ahead of the meeting.

Sources have said that the biggest talking point - whether or not to include the Prime Minister in the Lokpal's ambit - will be debated.

But the UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has already set the tone for the meeting by sending a short and terse reply to Anna Hazare's letter indicating hardening of the government's stand.

In the letter, she said, "I could not reply earlier as I was out of Delhi. In the meantime you made your concerns public. I will try to get information on issues raised. I have already addressed the other issues raised by you in my earlier letter."

Anna Hazare said he hadn't seen Sonia's reply but indicated that he might tour the country before his second proposed fast on August 16.

Divided on critical issues and with dim hopes of any breakthrough, the panel seems beyond reconciliation.

While team Anna called the Lokpal Bill a jokepal bill, the government on the other hand said, "Some of those who debate, think it's either my way or the high way."

As the members head for the last but one meeting, the war of words indicate an inevitable showdown. In the last seven meetings, differences have persisted even on the basic structure of the proposed anti-corruption watchdog.

While the civil society pitches for the inclusion of offices of the Prime Minister, higher judiciary, lower bureaucracy under the ambit of the Lokpal, the ministers on the panel are strongly against it.

Team Anna wants that the conduct of the legislatures on the floor of the house should be under the Lokpal scrutiny.

Ministers point out that it's an immunity guaranteed to the the MP's in the constitution.

The points of convergence in the last seven meetings have been that both sides agree that the Lokpal should be an independent body outside government control and should have its own investigative wing. They agree that the Lokpal will not need sanction to prosecute public servants and will be accountable to the Supreme Court.

Both sides are open to discussion on the most contentious issue, that is, of making the Prime Minister answerable to the Lokpal.

HRD and Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal has also said that the government is open to discussions on the issue, with the civil society members.

The government has sought a broader consensus by calling an all-party meeting on the issue.

The government's game plan is simple, that once the draft bill is finalised in consultations with other stake holders and introduced in Parliament, the debate will shift to Parliament and Anna Hazare will then have to contend with the Parliament of the nation and not just the government.
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