The government has said it is open to any suggestion on Anna Hazare’s proposed anti-corruption legislation and had not turned down the social activist’s demand for a joint committee – of government officials and civilians – to frame a fresh one.
Law Minister M Veerappa Moily said the government was open to suggestions even though it was “anxious to introduce the Lokpal Bill in the next session”.
He said the government “did not say no” to Hazare’s demand for a joint committee to draft the Bill after a sub-committee of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on corruption held discussions with representatives of Hazare and other members of civil society.
“Even on the demand for a joint committee, we said we were open. We never closed our mind even on the formation of a joint committee… In principle, we did not say no,” Moily said adding that the Prime Minister was open to all suggestions on the Bill.
He said though the Bill has already been drafted, it will not “find a finality” unless it goes to the Parliamentary Standing Committee.
“The Standing Committee can always throw it open to discussions and deliberations with everyone. No Bill is passed in a hide-and-seek manner. Parliament has the most transparent way of functioning in our country,” Moily said.
72-year-old Hazare is observing a fast-unto-death demanding the enactment of an anti-corruption Bill to give wider powers to the Ombudsman. He is pressing for a joint committee comprising 50 per cent officials and remaining citizens and intellectuals to draft the Bill.
The Congress however has stuck to its stand that Hazare’s fast – on the second day Wednesday – was premature as the government was open to all suggestions.
“The fast by Anna Hazare was premature and in a democracy debates should be held before a policy is framed,” party spokesperson Jayanthi Natarjan told reporters here.
Hazare has slammed the Congress for “misleading” the people by dubbing his agitation as unnecessary and premature.
Natarajan said, “While many people won’t agree on the Lokpal Bill and have different shades of opinion on the issue, the National Advisory Council and other fora are already discussing the proposed legislation… the far-reaching changes suggested by Hazare need broad discussions before a final draft can be arrived at.”
At the same time, she added that “no timeframe can be set” for taking such decisions as they require wider consultations.
The party had yesterday too termed the indefinite hunger strike by Hazare as “premature”, saying the government had already constituted a panel headed by Defence Minister A K Antony to go into the issue.
Meanwhile, party spokesperson Manish Tewari said Hazare should “reconsider his stand (of fast-unto-death) and accept the government’s offer of a constructive dialogue.”
“The Prime Minister of India has enormous respect for the cause Anna Hazare advances and advocates. However, these are complex issues. What should be the Ombudsman, what should be the character of the Lokpal? And ultimately it is for the government to propose a legislation and for Parliament to dispose it and between that two, there is enough room for civil society to give their inputs,” Tewari said.
He said, “We personally hold Hazare in high esteem but given that these are complex government issues and there are enough planes and joints to give inputs, he should reconsider his stand…,” Tewari said.
The Congress spokesperson refused to comment on reports that a section of Congress suspects Hazare was doing this at the behest of RSS.
“We never dignify rumours and speculation with a response. At the highest level of the government, it has been underlined and underscored that none less than the Prime Minister of India has enormous respect for the cause Hazare advances and advocates,” he said.