Hazare's action premature: Congress

Even as social activist Anna Hazare embarked on a hunger strike here on Tuesday on the issue of corruption, ignoring Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's appeal, the Congress described his action as “premature,” saying a government panel was examining the contours of the proposed Lokpal Bill.

Simultaneously, the National Advisory Council's Working Group on Transparency and Accountability, which will draft a model bill, also stressed that formulating an effective law was likely to be a long process. A day after they initiated the Working Group's consultations with civil society groups, NAC members Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander said, in a statement, the Lokpal Bill would “need wider and more geographically spread consultations.” It was “only the beginning of a discussion and debate on a seminal legislation, which is the basis of people hoping to build a more ethical and accountable country,” they said. “In a democratic process, discussions do not often progress in a linear trajectory, particularly if it believes in an inclusive process necessary for a mature piece of legislation.”

Grievance redress

Ms. Roy and Mr. Mander underscored the fact that both of them expressed their “reservations about including all grievances within the ambit of the Lokpal” and about “unconditional transparency, where matters of privacy are concerned.” The Jan Lokpal Bill, which was discussed at length by the NAC's Working Group on Monday, as well as during Sunday's consultations by the National Campaign for People's Right to Information at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library here, however, includes a provision for grievance redress. The purpose of the Working Group's meeting, they said, “was to define the principles and the framework for the legislation.” It would also examine the government's draft Lokpal Bill.

Minimum standard

Clarifying their commonly held position, the two members said that while there was no argument about the importance of addressing grievances, “there is a concern whether the Lokpal can adequately meet the requirements of a robust grievance redress system.” However, there was a “complete consensus that corruption of any kind and size would fall within the ambit of the Lokpal.” There was a “complete agreement that the RTI Act will form the minimum standard for transparency,” the members said, pointing out that “the discussion was centred on whether this Bill could go beyond RTI including doing away with some of the exemptions under Section 8 of the RTI Act.”

Reflecting on the many suggestions on the content of the Lokpal Bill, Ms. Roy and Mr. Mander said the NAC was providing the only space for discussion and debate, with government embarking on “a process of legislation with little or no participation of its people.” But “this space which also has its own process of functioning and its internal democratic nuances, cannot be seen in simplistic adversarial terms or as this vs that.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Hazare began his hunger strike at Jantar Mantar here. He was joined by Swami Agnivesh, the former IPS officer Kiran Bedi and Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey. The NGO, India Against Corruption, which is behind the hunger strike, has set up a countrywide network of coordinators, and its members held demonstrations in various parts of the country. It is from Mr. Hazare's India Against Corruption that the Jan Lokpal Bill has emerged.

“Not appropriate”

Reacting to his protest, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said that since the Prime Minister had already constituted a sub-committee headed by Defence Minister A.K. Antony, “adopting such a path is perhaps not appropriate, probably unnecessary. We respect Mr. Hazare very much but the path he has adopted is premature.”

He urged Mr. Hazare to heed the PMO's appeal and engage in a constructive discussion which could lead to enactment of more comprehensive legislation.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 8:50:47 PM |

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