India waits for Anna to resume fast at Ramlila Maidan

Hectic preparations are underway at the Ramlila Maidan where authorities have pulled out all the stops to make the venue ready for Anna Hazare to hold his protest fast against corruption. From putting Anna behind the bars to cleaning the ground for his fast, it has been a real turn around for the govt Earlier today, team Anna and government reached an agreement under which Delhi Police removed all restrictions and allowed him to carry out his hunger strike for a fortnight in the spacious Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. Watch videoJan Lokpal bill | Govt's lokpal billSticking point: Five big points of disagreement

india Updated: Aug 18, 2011 13:50 IST
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After two nights in Tihar Jail and hard bargaining, Anna Hazare and government reached an agreement early on Thursday morning under which Delhi Police removed all restrictions and allowed him to carry out his hunger strike for a fortnight in the spacious Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi.

The breakthrough in the battle of attribution between the two sides came in the wee hours of the day after top aides of Hazare met Delhi Police commissioner B K Gupta and reached an agreement.

The deal marks a major climbdown from government and police's earlier insistence that the fast would be allowed at JP Park, a smaller venue, only for three days with maximum of 5,000 protesters besides a number of other conditions.

The agreement came more than 40 hours after Hazare's arrest of Tuesday and release the same night. However, the Gandhian refused to come out of the jail, continued his fast and carried out hard negotiations from Tihar through his emissaries.

Activist Kiran Bedi tweeted early morning that Hazare has accepted the Delhi Police offer of 15 days and announced that he will go to Ramlila Maidan after 3 pm.

However, another close aide of the 73-year-old Gandhian said this morning that it may not be possible for Hazare to launch his protest from the Ramlila Ground on Thursday as the venue was full of muck and needs cleaning up.

"I have just spoken to commissioner of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (K S Mehra) who has promised me that a Deputy Commissioner would supervise the cleaning up operations at the Maidan," Kejriwal said.

He said Hazare going to the protest venue "looked difficult" as of now. "We can't give a time as to whether it would start today...if it is possible, (he may do it)."

Bedi had earlier said that Hazare would go to Rajghat before starting his protest in the Maidan after 3pm.

Confirming the deal, home secretary R K Singh said, "Delhi Police and Anna Hazare Team have agreed on the venue, duration, conditions etc."

"Delhi Police and the Anna Hazare team worked out between themselves this agreement. The Delhi Police has no problem in giving 15 days time and the 15 days also suits the Anna Team," he said.

Kejriwal said Hazare does not want to go before proper arrangements are made at the fast venue because once the crowd gather, it would be difficult to put in place proper facilities.

Arrangements like erection of tents and provision of drinking water facilities were being made.

He said that Hazare's health was perfectly okay and doctors from Medanta Medicity headed by Naresh Trehan have already checked him and certified him fit.

"I am fine, I am ready to walk two kilometres just now," Hazare was quoted as saying by Kejriwal whose remarks were loudly cheered by hundreds of the Gandhian's supporters gathered outside Tihar.

On Wednesday night, Hazare refused a check up by doctors from GB Pant hospital apprehending that they may remove him from the jail on health grounds.

Asserting that the government has bowed down to people's pressure, Kejriwal said, "we have just entered the battle, a long fight remains."

He appealed to the government to give a chance to the Jan Lokpal draft prepared by the civil society for Parliament to discuss.

"People have a right to say what draft will go to Parliament. They are supreme in democracy," he said rejecting government's contention that civil society cannot make law.

Kejriwal also attacked the government for the arrest of Hazare and seven of his associates, including himself, on the morning of Tuesday and the decision to release all of them within hours.

He also disputed the government's contention that the police did not seek remand of Hazare and others and that it was the decision of the executive magistrate's decision to remand them to seven days judicial custody.

"First they arrested us on the ground that we will disturb peace. Police asked us to give a written undertaking that we will not go to JP Park. But we told them we will go there soon after our release. Then they asked for seven days custody," he said.

Kejriwal said there was a need for a debate over police power to detain and release people at will. "They say we are bad but how in two hours, we have become alright?...Are we toys? What kind of law and order and democracy is this?"

Hazare credited the people of India for this "victory" and thanked them and thousands of people who took to the streets in a non-violent way throughout the country, he said quoting the Gandhian.

He said violence occurs only in rallies of political parties not in the campaign of Hazare. "This only shows the government will have to bow before the demands of the people," he said.

Former law minister and Hazare associate Shanti Bhushan said the decision to allow Hazare to fast for 15 days showed that his demands were reasonable and that the government should bring in a new Lokpal Bill after consulting the Gandhian.

"I am very happy that ultimately good sense has prevailed on the government and it has agreed to permit Anna to fast for 14 days and that shows Anna was never unreasonable in his demands," Bhushan said.

He claimed the provisions of the Lokpal Bill put forward by the Hazare team were "totally" Constitutional. "I can certify that they are Constitutional and I think it would be wise for the government to withdraw the (present) bill from Parliament and move a fresh bill after talking to Anna."

Meanwhile, Hazare's supporters gathered outside Tihar Jail to greet the news of government agreeing to the demands of the Gandhian.

As supporters started pouring in chanting anti-corruption slogans, about 250 Delhi policemen were deployed to provide security around Tihar, while another 200 men in uniform were kept on standby.

Bomb disposal teams and dog squads conducted a surprise check outside Tihar Jail here early this morning, soon after the Anna Hazare team announced that the Gandhian would move out of the prison to launch his anti-corruption protest at Ramlila Maidan.

The teams descended outside the jail, where Hazare supporters were camping to express solidarity with the 73-year-old social activist, at around 3:30 am and conducted a thorough check and sanitised the area.

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First Published: Aug 18, 2011 08:21 IST