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Lokpal row: Anna threatens fast, govt refuses to bow

Anna Hazare on Thursday threatened to go on hunger strike from August 16 alleging "backtracking" on Lokpal bill but the government refused to yield, saying it cannot allow creation of a "parallel" structure.

delhi Updated: Jun 16, 2011 22:14 IST

Anna Hazare on Thursday threatened to go on hunger strike from August 16 alleging "backtracking" on Lokpal bill but the government refused to yield, saying it cannot allow creation of a "parallel" structure.

Amidst hardening of positions by both sides, government made it clear that it would come out with a "strong and sound"
draft of Lokpal bill by June 30 irrespective of whether civil society activists cooperate.

A day after talks in the joint drafting committee on Lokpal Bill got deadlocked, Hazare accused the government of
having no intention to enact a strong anti-corruption law and that it had "backtracked" on the promises that it will agree to all the suggestions forwarded by the civil society members.

Hazare, whose hunger strike in April had evoked nationwide response which rattled the government, said he will
undertake an indefinite fast from August 16 if a diluted legislation is brought.

Shortly after press conference by Hazare and his team, ministers in the drafting committee P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal
and Salman Khurshid hit back at the civil society, making it clear that the government will not succumb to threats.

"You cannot threaten and negotiate at the same time...This is not the way forward...The government is not going to get diverted by abuses and slander," HRD Minister Sibal said at a press conference.

Home Minister Chidambaram said, "I don't think anywhere in the world, fasting is the way to draft a bill." He asserted that many of the demands of the Hazare team cannot be accepted because a structure parallel to the government cannot be allowed.

"We cannot create a parallel government outside the government that controls every action of the government. We have serious differences on the issue," Sibal said.

Chidambaram maintained that the basic features of the Constitution cannot be altered and political processes have to
be respected.

"Laws are made by Parliament. Congress is not the only elected party. There are other parties. One has to respect the
political processes... There is a gap between what is desirable and what is possible," he said.

Affirming the government's commitment to bring an effective Lokpal Bill, he said "once Parliament passes it, the
vast majority of countrymen would say good job has been done."

On demands for conferring upon 11-member Lokpal powers to initiate departmental proceedings against bureaucrats, Sibal
said "how can a government wantonly pass over that power."

He said if these powers were transferred to the Lokpal, government servants would be loyal to it and not government.

"We said we oppose this change to the basic structure," Sibal said adding that these were the elements of discussion
at the meeting of the Joint Drafting Committee which cannot be construed as "decisions" as alleged by Hazare's team.

Chidambaram also dismissed the demand for a referendum on Lokpal Bill saying that the Constitution does not provide for
such a measure and wondered whether a legislation can be put to such a vote clause by clause.

The ministers cautioned against making the Lokpal an all powerful body wondering what controls can be applied if the
Lokpal or its officials go corrupt.

On the contentious issue of bringing the Prime Minister under the purview of the Lokpal, Chidambaram said there could
be many possibilities including doing so with "clearly carved out exceptions" or after the person demits office.

"There is no decision. It is a matter of discussion," he said. Noting that the Prime Minister was the lynchpin in a
Parliamentary democracy, Sibal said if allegations were levelled against the PM that would make him defunct till the
investigation.

"In the meanwhile, you have destroyed the credibility of the institution. They may think of Prime Minister as an
individual. We think of Prime Minister as an institution and we want to protect that institution."

Hazare said he was "surprised" that the government wanted civil society members to give a separate draft of the bill
which will be brought before the cabinet along with that of the government.

"If there have to be two drafts, then why was this joint committee formed. They could have told us earlier. Our draft
was known to them. Why waste so much of time? It is clear that the government has no intention to bring an effective bill," Hazare said.

Alleging that the government had gone back on assurances given to him to persuade him to withdraw his hunger strike in
April, he said, "I will resume my fast on August 16....if the government tries to suppress us like in the case of Ramdev, we are prepared for that," he said.

However, the Hazare camp made it clear that they will attend the meetings of June 20 and 21 to see what the government has to say on the issue.