Police agreeable to shifting venue to Ramlila Grounds, lift all but one condition

Faced with nationwide protests and slammed by a united Opposition in Parliament over the detention of social activist Anna Hazare, the government went into damage control mode on Wednesday, agreeing to lift all but one condition for the anti-corruption crusader's fast on the Lokpal Bill issue. The condition — restriction on the number of days of fast — remained a stumbling block to Mr. Hazare coming out of jail. Late in the evening a doctor visited him for a check-up, now that he had been on fast for almost two days.

Following daylong negotiations, the Delhi Police lifted the restriction on the number of protesters and cars, and allowed use of loudspeakers till 10 p.m. at the protest site. It also agreed to the shifting of the fast venue to the Ramlila Grounds that can accommodate huge numbers.

The police initially allowed a seven-day agitation, which was later extended to three weeks. This condition was rejected by Mr. Hazare and his team of negotiators, including Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan, Swami Agnivesh, Kiran Bedi and Medha Patkar. Having declared an indefinite fast, Mr. Hazare wanted no time frame.

Team Anna is agitating for a revised, effective and comprehensive Lokpal Bill that will provide for setting up Lokayuktas in States, and cover the lower bureaucracy, the Prime Minister, the higher judiciary and public grievances to deal with day-to-day corruption.

“The huge outpouring of public support has made the government see sense in at least allowing the fast to be held at a larger venue. They have realised that the Jayaprakash Narayan Park cannot accommodate so many people and have agreed to shift the venue to the Ramlila Grounds,” Mr. Bhushan told The Hindu.

The damage control exercise began early in the day with Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh announcing that Mr. Hazare was free to go anywhere but he must discuss his fast programme with the Delhi Police. Since then there had been hourly reports of the activist coming out of jail but that did not happen.

The issue was discussed in both Houses after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh explained the government's point of view in a statement.

People of all hues thronged the gates of the Tihar jail that became an impromptu venue of the agitation. Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar visited Mr. Hazare in jail. They reported that he was continuing with his fast and was cheerful.

By evening, responding to a call by Team Anna, hundreds of people, predominantly students, marched from India Gate to Jantar Mantar here. Large-scale protests were reported from Mumbai, Bangalore, Secunderabad, Indore, Bhubaneswar and Chennai.