Anna Hazare and his supporters in the anti-graft movement began an indefinite fast at a venue here today, spewing ‘evidence’ of corruption charges against 15-odd Union ministers and the country’s new President, Pranab Mukherjee.
In a parallel development, eight to nine members of a select committee of the Rajya Sabha, set up to look into the government’s Bill on the Lok Pal, the proposed anti-corruption ombudsman, had its fourth meeting in a month. The members said the panel was unlikely to come up with a report in the coming monsoon session of Parliament. About 150 amendments had been suggested in the Bill, they said, adding there were some legal flaws which had to be corrected. So, the committee, announced in May but constituted almost a month later, is not hopeful of a report soon, sources said.
In fact, sources indicated, neither the report on the Lok Pal Bill nor on the one on grievance redressal are likely to be presented in Parliament in the coming session. Members of the standing committee looking at the latter Bill suggested much work remained to be done. Although the Union government and the chairman of the standing committee, Shantaram Naik, say they eagerly want the report, panel members have said the matter must not be rushed through.
Members have also asked 11 state governments where a similar law (on grievance redressal) is in place to share their experience and the difficulties faced in the process of implementation of the law. “None of the state governments have been able to implement the law completely and there are huge gaps in the process. That is why the standing committee doesn’t want to rush through the Bill and create further problems,” sources said.
A section of the standing committee on the grievance redressal process also believes a Union government should not bring a Bill which encroaches on the rights of state governments. “Since this Bill also deals with state governments, it is necessary that the views of the state governments are also taken, so that they don’t feel the Bill is encroaching on their rights. It will create further political problems if the state governments are unhappy with the content of the Bill and the way it will be implemented,” sources said.
As for Team Anna’s renewed agitation, Tourism Minister Ambika Soni said: “They are merely trying to malign the government.” Despite this dimissive rhetoric, there have been efforts by the government to make peace. While the select committee meetings on the Lok Pal was one indication, the other was the secret talks between Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Hazare.
On the first day of the agitation, the activists got a good response in the form of crowds numbering up to 2,000-3,000 clogging the Jantar Mantar venue. Team Anna reeled out evidence collected from media reports, and audit reports against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and ministers Kapil Sibal, Virbhadra Singh and P Chidambaram.
Among those in the crowd were farmers from Haryana, some activists from Himachal Pradesh and labour union members from a medical devices company, Eastern Medikit Ltd, who said they’d not been paid for three months, with the owners at large. “We have not come only for our personal cause. We support Anna, too,” said Radhe Shyam, a workers’ leader from Eastern Medikit.