No consensus on all-party Lokpal meet

Last Updated: Wed, Dec 14, 2011 18:52 hrs

An all party meeting on the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill ended Wednesday night with several lawmakers reportedly urging the Prime Minister not to rush with the law, even as the opposition BJP and the communists along with the PM said they want the bill to be brought in the ongoing winter session of Parliament.

But a consensus was not in sight with Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan among others urging the PM not to take a hasty decision.

There was no consensus on the issue of federal investigating agency Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) coming under the Lokpal.

Many parties were unsure if CBI should be under Lokpal while many wanted an investigation wing of the Lokpal though they had no clear formula on how that will function as against the CBI.

Many MPs sounded a note of caution saying nothing should be done in haste, but there seemed to be a consensus on bringing the PM and the lower bureaucracy under the Lokpal.

With the political parties sticking to their guns, it can be said that no consensus was reached apparently.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sushma Swaraj tweeted after the end of the meeting: "We want that the Government must bring Lokpal Bill in this session of Parliament itself."

"On contentious issues, we reiterated our stand on the lines of the dissent note submitted by our members to the Standing Committee," she said.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury said they want the bill to be brought in the ongoing winter session.

Immediately after the news broke of a consensus eluding the meeting, team Anna member Kiran Bedi tweeted: "Don´t blame people on existing trust deficit. Can any one take any commitment seriously hereafter."

Another Anna group member Arvind Kejriwal said there would be fast protest either in Delhi (if the weather permits) or in Mumbai (they have applied for booking of Azad Maidan) on Dec 27.

Anna Hazare has threatened another indefinite fast from Dec 27 if a strong Lokpal Bill was not passed in the winter session of Parliament.

In his opening remark in the all party meeting, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he wants a consensus on the legislation and its passage in the ongoing winter session.

"I am personally keen that this momentous legislation should be passed on the basis of consensus among all parties as far as possible and that this should not be subjected to party politics in any way.

"This is an occasion where we must keep the interests of the country foremost in our minds.

"The Government is also keen that we must make all efforts to pass a Lokpal Bill in this very session that is based on consensus and that is driven by Parliament as the custodian of legislation. Your guidance and cooperation in this matter are of paramount importance," he said.

He said the Government is committed to implementing in letter and spirit a good and effective Lokpal Bill that would have a quick and positive impact in further curbing the cancer of corruption without any adverse effects on the efficiency of our system of public administration.

While there was a broad consensus on PM and lower bureaucracy, there was also no consensus on the issue of CBI vis-a-vis Lokpal Bill.

The merger of the the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into a proposed ombudsman agency is a significant issue of discord among parties.

The all-party meet came just a day after a meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, between the allies of the Congress in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that sought to iron out differences between members of the governing coalition.

On Tuesday the Union Cabinet also cleared two crucial anti-corruption bills- Judicial Accountability Bill and Citizen´s Charter Bill, seen as a move to blunt the Anna Hazare effect.

The Judicial Accountability Bill that was cleared seeks to lay down judicial standards and provide for accountability of Judges, and, establish credible and expedient mechanism for investigating into individual complaints of misdemeanor of a judge of the Supreme Court or the High Court.

The Citizens´ Charter Bill seeks to set a time frame to redress public grievances.

The cabinet also cleared the Whistleblowers´ Bill which is called the Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill (Whistleblower´s Bill) .

The anti-corruption Lokpal Bill, that has been delayed for over four decades and brought into recent limelight by the campaigns of veteran activist Anna Hazare-led India Against Corruption (IAC), has been a contentious issue for the graft-riddle UPA.

In a year that saw the public scrutiny of scores of government corruption scandals, the biggest of which sees the former telecoms minister languish in jail pending trial, the Congress-led ruling coalition has been widely criticised over its handling of the matter.

Seemingly wary of more heat over the anti-graft Bill that proposes to set up an independent ombudsman with police-like powers to prosecute multiple tiers of the government, the UPA has been long at work to arrive at a confluence of opinions over the law.

On Sunday last, Hazare held a day-long "token" hunger strike as a precursor to the indefinite one that he has threatened to sit on from Dec 27 if the Central government does not enact a strong iteration of the ombudsman law by the end of the month.

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