To garner political support for a strong and independent ombudsman, anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare on Thursday personally presented his draft of the Lokayukta Bill to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and leaders of other political parties , ahead of his State-wide tour.
While leaders of all major parties met Mr. Hazare, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray refused to meet him. A Sena spokesperson, however, said Mr. Thackeray would meet Mr. Hazare later.
Mr. Hazare will tour all 35 districts of Maharashtra from May 1 to June 6 and thereafter various States to demand effective Lokayukta laws.
He pointed to a “bleak future” for Maharashtra with a “toothless” Lokayukta. “The way things are going on, no one can say Maharashtra has a bright future. It is difficult for the common man to live. Only 10 per cent of the funds go for development works. Around 75 per cent of the State's money is spent on logistics, and half of the remaining amount is cornered through corruption.”
Mr. Hazare's draft proposes an autonomous 11-member Lokayukta with its machinery spread across the State. “Just as the Election Commission, the High Court and the Supreme Court function independently, the Lokayukta should be an autonomous body. “There should be no government interference.”
The draft mandates public servants to declare their assets, and proposes a penalty of Rs. 500 a day for their failure to carry out duties in a time-bound manner. It wants the Criminal Investigation Department and the Anti-Corruption Bureau brought within the ambit of the Lokayukta.
“In villages, there are only a few goondas. But if anyone dares to speak against them, police are immediately told to protect them. As for government offices, people have to run from pillar to post to get work done. As in politics, corruption in the bureaucracy is high. With the Lokayukta, the poor will get justice, and people won't have to make trips to government offices,” Mr. Hazare told a press conference.
As for corruption in the judiciary, he said: the Lokayukta would have the power only to investigate and not hand out punishment. “A complaint can be lodged with the Lokayukta, which will then probe the matter and submit a report to the High Court. It will be for the court to decide upon the punishment.”
Mr. Chavan said the ball was in the Centre's court, saying his government would wait for a clear position from the national leadership on inclusion of the Lokayukta in the Lokpal Bill.
“I have written to the Centre asking for a model Lokayukta law. The States can then frame their laws, based on this model law. When the model Bill is proposed, it won't be binding on the States but the Congress-ruled States will abide by it. The Central leadership is in favour of this idea. I will discuss it when I go to Delhi. If the Centre decides against framing a model law, Maharashtra will go ahead and frame its own…” We are examining the Lokayuktas in Uttarakhand and Karnataka, our own laws and Mr. Hazare's draft. But we are waiting for clarity from the Centre.”
Mr. Chavan said Mr. Hazare told him that the existing okayukta was “toothless.” “I broadly agree with him in that we need strong anti-corruption legislation. Maharashtra already has a Lokayukta, but Mr. Hazare's demand is to strengthen it. From my side, I have been working to tackle corruption. I don't have a magic wand. Technology has made a great difference.”
The State government, Mr. Chavan said, had addressed 361 of the 365 concerns raised by Mr. Hazare in the past. He had not set any deadline for the government to pass the Lokayukta Bill.
Calling Mr. Hazare's tour a “public awareness” campaign rather than an “andolan,” Mr. Chavan said it was “not against any party.” “We had a cordial meeting.”
Mr. Hazare did not answer questions on the differences among Team Anna members. Asked about the allegations of corruption against his team, especially Baba Ramdev, he shot back: “Show me proof. Tell me where he [Baba Ramdev] was involved in corruption.”
The BJP State president, Sudhir Mungantiwar, said his party would introduce a Lokayukta Bill, in the form of a private Bill, in the Assembly during the monsoon session. Mr. Hazare expressed his satisfaction with the BJP's draft as being very similar to his own.
Mr. Hazare found another supporter in Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray, whom he praised for “his party's work,” and for conducting examinations for selecting candidates.
Mr. Thackeray told journalists after meeting Mr. Hazare that he backed the activist's demand for a strong Lokayukta. But Mr. Hazare approaching the ruling party leadership over corruption was akin to one “meeting dacoits to reduce dacoity.” The situation in Maharashtra today was pitiable, with all leaders having become land mafia. “I told Mr. Hazare to pay attention to Maharashtra. Many effective provisions are needed to be worked into the Lokayukta.”
He demanded that the office of Chief Minister be brought within the purview of the Lokayukta, in light of the Adarsh Housing Society scam.
Asked about Mr. Bal Thackeray's refusal to meet him, Mr. Hazare said he was not aware of it. He had nothing to lose, and all he was concerned about was to seek a law for the sake of the people.
Mr. Hazare announced that in the next one-and-a-half years, he would tour the country demanding an effective Jan Lokpal Bill. “If the government does not do it, there will be elections, and I will sit again [on fast] at the Ramlila Maidan [in New Delhi].”