The National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI) said on Saturday that while it fully backed anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and his team on their right to agitate for a Jan Lokpal Bill, it had strong reservations over the methods adopted by the group and disagreed with the provisions of their Bill.
The NCPRI objected in particular to the ultimatums flowing from Ramlila Maidan — where Mr. Hazare is fasting against a backdrop of surging, stampeding crowds — asking the government to introduce the Jan Lokpal Bill by Tuesday and get it passed immediately with the majority at its command.
The NCPRI, whose members Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Harsh Mander and Shekhar Singh, addressed a press conference along with the former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, A.P. Shah, said the Anna group was being intolerant by asking for their version of the Bill to be passed immediately and without any discussion. “Nobody has the right to say we alone are right. Democracy is about recognising and allowing multiple and diverse views,” said Mr. Mander.
Mr. Singh described as dangerous a reported comment by Hazare group member Shanti Bhushan that the government would be allowed no leeway in finalising the Jan Lokpal draft, and if at all it wanted any amendments, it would first need to clear them with Mr. Hazare.
The NCPRI presented its own anti-corruption alternative comprising a basket of measures at the press conference.
Mr. Dey said the NCPRI had held meetings with major political parties on these measures and would soon place them before the parliamentary Standing Committee now considering the government's Lokpal Bill.
The meet drew to a noisy close with sections of the press suggesting that Ms. Roy and others had no support from the people as opposed to Anna, who had created a powerful janmat (mass opinion). A volley of questions was lobbed at the members, many of them openly hostile and confrontationist. “My last name is Kejriwal and that is why you are not taking my question,” complained a journalist. The reference was clearly to Anna aide Arvind Kejriwal.
Ms. Roy and others explained that they had no personal quarrels with Team Anna and indeed that Mr. Arvind Kejriwal and Mr. Prashant Bhushan were themselves part of the NCPRI, and they had together debated and discussed the initial drafts of the Jan Lokpal Bill. But since these drafts — as well as the finalised Jan Lokpal Bill — concentrated too much power in the hands of a single institution, running the risk of becoming authoritarian and overbureaucratised, the NCPRI, after several rounds of deliberations, arrived at a basket of measures to take the place of a single Lokpal: a principal Lokpal to tackle political corruption and corruption among the senior bureaucracy; a strengthened Central Vigilance Commission to investigate and prosecute the remaining categories of civil servants; a Judicial Accountability Commission brought into force by a fortified Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill; an independent Grievance Redress Commission to address everyday corruption and complaints ; and a Whistleblower Protection Law.
The NCPRI members said they were asked to present their views to the joint drafting committee consisting of Ministers and the Anna group, but the committee collapsed resulting in their having to go public.
Ms. Roy said the NCPRI was acutely conscious that what was being witnessed on the streets was collective anger over failure of governments over 40 years to address corruption. She said she herself had fought many battles on the streets, holding negotiations with the government for the enactment of landmark Acts such as the Right to Information Act and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The RTI drafts had gone back and forth between the NCPRI to the National Advisory Committee to the Department of Personnel and Training, and was finally approved by the government with as many as 150 amendments