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Prime Minister appeals to Hazare to end fast

B. Muralidhar Reddy
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‘Ready to request Speaker to refer Jan Lokpal Bill to panel'

Manmohan Singh
Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday extended an olive branch to anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare amid growing concern at the latter's health condition on the eighth day of his indefinite fast. Dr. Singh announced that the government is prepared to request Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to formally refer Team Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill also to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for their “holistic consideration along with everything else.”

In a letter to the 74-year old veteran social campaigner, who has caught the imagination of several sections of society, Dr. Singh appealed to the former to call off his protest and also made it known that the government could formally request the Standing Committee to “try, subject to its discretion and the necessity to reflect deeply and spend adequate time on an important Bill, and fast track their deliberations to the extent reasonably feasible.”

The Prime Minister's appeal came a day ahead of a meeting of the floor leaders of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha convened by him and a scheduled debate in the Lok Sabha on corruption under a rule that does not entail voting.

Dr. Singh's letter followed hectic parleys among senior United Progressive Alliance (UPA) leaders and Ministers throughout the day and noisy scenes in both Houses of Parliament that adjourned for the day without transacting any official business.

The government also named senior Minister Pranab Mukherjee to open channels of communication with Mr. Hazare's core team. The move came following murmurs of dissent within the UPA over the manner in which key government negotiators, including Kapil Sibal and P. Chidambaram, handled the situation with Team Anna.

A meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party under the chairmanship of Mr. Mukherjee on Thursday is expected to witness some frank exchange of views.

The Lokpal Bill introduced on August 4 is before the Standing Committee with a mandate to it to submit its recommendations within three months. Legally, nothing precludes the committee from taking note of any input outside the Bill's provisions.

Last week, Congress MP Parveen Singh Aron submitted a copy of the Team Anna bill to the committee for a meaningful discussion.

Spelling the rationale behind the intent of the government to petition the Speaker to formally refer the Jan Lokpal bill to the Committee, Dr. Singh said it was in keeping with the sentiment of his team that the Jan Lokpal Bill version should be before Parliament.

Emphasising the point on “parliamentary supremacy and constitutional obligations' in matters of legislation, the Prime Minister said there was no objective of Mr. Hazare and the government on dealing with scourge of corruption in society.

“..All options are open before the Standing Committee. Undoubtedly, they would be entitled to consider, in detail and clause by clause, subject to their discretion, not only the Bill introduced by us but the Jan Lokpal Bill and other versions like those prepared by Ms. Aruna Roy,” Dr. Singh's letter said.

Chairman of the Standing Committee on Personnel Affairs Abhishek Manu Singhvi said it would be their endeavour to complete their task as early as possible. He made the assertion two hours before the Prime Minister's Office released the text of Dr. Singh's letter.

The next meeting of the committee is to be held in September first week.

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