Thursday, April 7, 2011

7 Apr, 2011, 09.06AM IST, Manoj Mitta,TNN India against corruption: Lokpal Bill- United in opposition, civil society a divided lot

NEW DELHI: Though civil society has rejected the official Lokpal Bill with almost one voice, the confabulations in the run-up to Anna Hazare's hunger strike have brought out differences within activists on the alternative Jan Lokpal Bill.

The differences had come to light at the two meetings held on April 3 and 4 to examine the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill espoused by Hazare, who began his fast unto death on April 5. Both meetings were attended by members of the ''India Against Corruption'' group, which is spearheading the campaign to replace Lokpal with Jan Lokpal.

The April 4 consultation was held by a sub-committee of the National Advisory Council (NAC), while the April 3 meeting, which took place in Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, was organized by the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI), which had participated in the drafting of the RTI Act 2005.

The confabulations evidently showed that some of the key provisions of the draft Jan Lokpal Bill had not been thought through, despite all the improvements made on the basis of inputs from across the country. It was felt that the powers envisaged for the corruption watchdog were overbroad without adequate safeguards.

Similarly, there are differences within civil society on whether Hazare should have gone ahead with his hunger strike programme without waiting for the NAC to complete its review of the two drafts and give its recommendations to the government. This is apparent from a statement issued on Wednesday by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS), which pioneered the RTI movement in the country.

Even as it appreciated Hazare's efforts in creating a groundswell of support for a strong Jan Lokpal Bill, the MKSS statement, co-signed by NAC member Aruna Roy, made no secret of its disagreement over Hazare's demand for a joint committee consisting of government and civil society representatives to finalize the provisions.

Cautioning that '' bypassing democratic processes for political expediency, however desirable the outcome, may be detrimental to democracy itself '' , MKSS said that its focus was not on ensuring that there was 50% representation for civil society in the drafting committee but '' to demand that the government immediately announce its intention to pass a strong lok pal legislation based on wide public consultations'' .

This note of discord came close on the heels of a press note issued by Roy and another NAC member Harsh Mander stating that '' two of the major issues of contention' ' over the Jan Lokpal Bill at the April 4 meeting were '' the inclusion of grievances within the ambit of the bill' ' and '' the issue of provisions for transparency under this bill'' .

On the first issue, the NAC note said cryptically that '' there is a concern whether the lokpal can adequately meet the requirements of a grievance redressal system'' . On the issue of transparency , it expressed doubts over the efficacy of the proposal that the lokpal be empowered to put all its evidence in the public domain irrespective of the limitations prescribed by Section 8 of the RTI Act.

Hazare's supporters also suffered a setback on account of the reservations expressed to the media by Karnataka lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde, who is touted by them as one of the authors of the Jan Lokpal Bill. After attending the meetings of April 3 and 4, Hegde said that Hazare should have withheld his fast till the NAC gave its report and the government took a call on it. He also confirmed that he had misgivings about some of the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill, although it was otherwise far better than the government draft.

Source : ET

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