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Govt-Team Anna hold direct talks on Lokpal issue

Last updated on: August 24, 2011 00:17 IST

Government and Team Anna on Tuesday night began discussions on the Lokpal issue amidst clear indications that government might consider bringing the Prime Minister under the ambit of the anti-corruption ombudsman while differences persisted on other key issues during the inconclusive talks.

The negotiations capped a day of fast-moving developments which saw Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appoint Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as the negotiator and immediately thereafter three members of Team Anna Hazare met him.

After three hours of talks, Team Anna said they made it clear to the government that the official Lokpal Bill should either be withdrawn or allowed to lapse and the Jan Lokpal Bill should be introduced and passed in the current session of Parliament by extending it, if necessary.

They also rejected the Prime Minister's offer to send the Jan Lokpal Bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee.\

"We have told them that it is not acceptable," Arvind Kejriwal, a top associate of Hazare, told a gathering at Ramlila Maidan where the veteran activist's fast entered the second week.

A frail-looking 74-year-old Hazare disregarded doctors' advise to him to be put on drips which he first accepted but later rejected heeding his "inner conscience".

Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister, concerned over the deteriorating health of Hazare, directly reached out to him by writing a letter with an appeal for ending the fast and promise that his version of Lokpal Bill would be considered by Parliament.

Singh told Hazare that the government would request Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to refer the Team Hazare bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee which would then be formally asked to "fast track their deliberations to the extent reasonably feasible".

Singh said his government's objective with regard to tackling corruption was "identical" to that of Hazare and was ready to talk to anybody to enact a "constitutionally-valid and the best possible Lokpal" while keeping in mind the Parliamentary supremacy and Constitutional obligations.

Emerging from the meeting with Hazare team, Mukherjee said, "We have started discussions with representatives of the civil society" and further discussion will take place at the all-party meeting scheduled for Wednesday.

"Dialogue will continue. I am hopeful we will be able to work out a solution," the finance minister said.

At the same time, he appealed to Hazare to call off his fast, saying his "life is too precious to be put at any risk whatsoever."

The Team Hazare said the discussions were "quite fruitful and constructive" held in a "good atmosphere" and said "some progress" was made.

Soon afterwards, the Prime Minister convened a meeting of senior ministers which was apprised by Mukherjee and Khurshid about their discussions with the Hazare team.

Kejriwal told Hazare's supporters at Ramlila Ground that differences persisted on three "sticky issues" -- bringing the lower bureaucracy under Lokpal, preparing a citizens charter by all departments and establishment of Lokayuktas in all states.

They also rejected the Prime Minister's contention that the Jan Lokpal Bill could be referred to the Standing Committee.

Kejriwal said they made it clear to the government that Jan Lokpal Bill should be passed, without referring it to the Standing Committee, during the current session of Parliament, even if it means extending it by a few days.

The Hazare team also demanded that the official Lokpal Bill should be withdrawn or allowed to lapse.

Bhushan claimed that government did not have any objection of some other key issues like bringing the Prime Minister under the purview of Lokpal.

With regard to bringing higher judiciary under the Lokpal, Kejriwal said the government had promised to bring a separate law.

The team Hazare wanted that bill be shown to them and passed along with the Lokpal Bill.

"The government does not have objection to bringing the Prime Minister under the Lokpal. However, on bringing MPs under Lokpal, the government cited Article 105 providing protection to them," Bhushan said.

Bedi said the government was also ready to transfer the anti-corruption wing of CBI to Lokpal.

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