SAVE ANNA CALL FROM RAMLILA MAIDAN
From Our Delhi Bureau
NEW DELHI: A day after the fasting anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare served an ultimatum to Parliament to pass the Lokpal Bill in 12 days by Aug 30, his team on Saturday wanted its own alternate Jan Lokpal Bill tabled in Parliament and claimed the government can pass it in five minutes if it has will and concern for life of the 74-year-old on fast since August 16.
The Ramlila Maidan reverberated with anti-corruption slogans and songs even as the strength of supporters started petering out but the crowds swelling in a sort of carnival by the curious wanting to have a look at an ordinary ex-Army truck driver taking on the might of the government and virtually dictating his terms.
Anna Team's concern is that Hazare has stood ground to cross 100 hours of fast without any problem to his health but it can not go on forever as he is not on "fast unto death" but fasting to build a public pressure on the government to go for a strong anti-corruption law.
It was the turn of the 86-year old former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan, a legal mind behind the Jan Lokpal Bill the Team Anna is trying to thrust on the government, to assert that the gathering at the grounds is symbolic of the people's will from across the country that the government should concede.
"It is the people's demand that next Tuesday when Parliament opens, the government should withdraw its version of the Lokpal Bill and introduce our Bill," he declared and asserted that the government can get it passed within days and in any case by August 30, the deadline set by Anna, if it has a "strong will" to do it. "It can happen. I have been a Union Law Minister and I know how things happen in government," he said.
His only rider was that the government give an assurance to Hazare "to issue a whip to the MPs of the ruling coalition to vote for the Jan Lokpal Bill whenever it comes before Parliament."
15 BILLS IN 5 MINUTES: Arvind Kejriwal, another Team Anna leader, asserted that the crusader's 12-day deadline to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill or face his fast "till my last breath" was not an impractical demand. "If the government desires, it can pass 15 Bills in five minutes. But for the anti-corruption bill, they are taking more than 42 years. So we want to know how many more years will they take," he asked.
He also said the civil society group was open to a separate mechanism for corruption in the higher judiciary but then it would be drafting such a Bill to ensure there are no loopholes.
A union minister quipped that if the government concedes the group's demand to draft the judicial responsibility bill, a day will not be far when it will also stake claim to draft a new Constitution for India. He said only a "fascist mind" can talk of passing 15 laws in five minutes without discussion, muzzling democracy.
Both Shanti Bhushan and Kejriwal said the Team Anna is open to some small changes in its Jan Lokpal Bill if the government gives assurance to the crusader to pass the Bill without loss of time. "If the government feels that some small changes need to be made to the Bill, then even those should be made only after taking permission and support from Anna. If they are willing to give that assurance, then it will show a respect for public sentiment and it is possible that Anna may agree to it," Bhushan told the cheering crowds.
PUBLIC OPINION: An advertisement put out in newspapers by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice inviting suggestions from public on the Lokpal Bill gave a fodder to the agitators to claim the government is trying to gauge the public opinion to decide its future course of action in the wake of the public upsurge against this Bill.
Senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who heads the committee, however, explained that the notice inviting suggestions from public is a regular drill by the parliamentary panels examining the Bills and nothing special about the Lokpal Bill.
The public views are sought "within fifteen days of publication of the advertisement," i.e. up to September 3 and thereafter the committing will be inviting those wanting to make oral submissions as the notice says.
The committee, a sort of "mini Parliament" with all major parties represented on it, will hold its own meetings after eliciting the public opinion before giving a report to Parliament on changes in the Bill, if necessary, Singhvi said. He said this process cannot be short-circuited to let Parliament enact the law by August 30 as Hazare wishes. The process includes invitation of diverse views in writing, examination of witness evidence and detailed confidential deliberations, he said.
WASTING TIME: Kejriwal, however, asserted that the exercise of the parliamentary panel is "a waste of time" of public and parliamentarians. "We appeared before the standing committee earlier and told them that the present Bill is actually for promotion of corruption and save the corrupt people," he said.
He claimed the Bill before the panel is so faulty that it needs rejection as it will be never acceptable to the people. He said it is nothing but yet another attempt by the government to divert attention and buy time as it has no intention whatsoever to really fight corruption.
Better if the government withdraws its Bill and places the Jan Lokpal Bill before Parliament, he said and dismissed BJP member Varun Gandhi's bid to bring it as a private member's Bill. Kejriwal said a private member's Bill is brought just to draw the attention of the House towards an issue and nothing more.
In an interview to a news agency, Singhvi said his standing committee can not be pushed to give its report on the Lokpal Bill in no time, but said it will have an "open mind" on all suggestions. He said: "No time limit can be accurately specified except that the reference to us initially is for three months." At times, the committees seek extension of even this time limit, he underlined.
Soon after the Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 4 by the government, the Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari had referred it to the Singhvi committee and given it three months to give the recommendations. Even before the notice inviting public views was issued, the committee chose in an unusual manner to give a hearing to Hazare and his colleagues and told them that they were welcome to appear again to advance their case for the Jan Lokpal Bill.