NAC to suspend work on Lokpal Bill
Sonia Gandhi, in her capacity as National Advisory Council Chairperson, has written to social activist Anna Hazare, saying she does “not support or encourage the politics of smear campaigns.”
Separately, an NAC release announced that the council would no longer be working on the Lokpal Bill.
Interestingly, Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan, asked to respond to the attack on lawyer Shanti Bhushan by Congress leaders, said on Wednesday: “They have a right to voice their views. The joint committee has been set up. Issues have been raised — it is for the people concerned to respond. My party has no views on it.”
Unofficially, a senior Congress functionary, in an attempt at damage control following the upsurge of public support for Mr. Hazare's campaign against corruption, referred to the Justice P.B. Sawant Commission — which had investigated corruption charges levelled against the social activist and his trusts, and submitted its report to the Maharashtra government in 2005 — and said: “Anna Hazare's is not a divine court that no one is allowed to say a word against him.” Recently, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said the Sawant report had come as a “rude shock” to him.
Ms. Gandhi's letter, dated April 19, comes a day after Mr. Hazare wrote to her, complaining that a Congress general secretary (Mr. Digvijay Singh) and a Union Minister (Kapil Sibal) were tarnishing the reputations of civil society members who were on the joint committee drafting the Lokpal Bill, and asking her to clarify whether she endorsed their statements.
In her letter, Ms. Gandhi, reiterating her commitment to “the fight for probity in public life,” pointed out that the Lokpal Bill was very much part of the NAC's agenda. Its Working Group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance, she said, had on April 4 held consultations with civil society representatives including Mr. Shanti Bhushan, Santosh Hegde and Prashant Bhushan, “who are now on the joint committee,” as well as Swami Agnivesh and Arvind Kejriwal, “who have been closely associated with you.” The NAC had decided to hold further consultations to evolve broad principles for discussion for approval at its next meeting, but the plans were “overtaken by subsequent events.”
Meanwhile, the NAC release says the council has decided to abandon its work on the Lokpal Bill for the moment, as it wishes to avoid duplication, given that the joint committee is working on a draft Bill.
NAC members differed with civil society representatives on the joint committee on some aspects of the proposed Bill. While the NAC members want the Bill to confine itself to corruption in high places, the civil society representatives want it widened to include smaller cases such as irregularities in issuing BPL cards, etc. The NAC members feel that if the Lokpal Bill attempts to address all cases of corruption, it will collapse under the sheer volume of complaints: they have suggested instead a parallel law, a Delivery of Services Bill, to address these cases.
The NAC members are also opposed to placing in the public domain all information during the course of investigation of cases, as that would harm those who may not be guilty.