New Delhi, Jun 15: Talks between government and Anna Hazare-led civil society failed to make headway today and the two sides agreed to meet again on June 20 and 21 to bridge “strong divergence” of opinion.
In view of the differences over various elements of the proposed Lokpal Bill, it was decided at the two-and-half hour meeting of the joint drafting committee that a note will be sent to the Union Cabinet by June 30, carrying versions of both the sides.
The Anna Hazare-led civil society members suggested that Lokpal should be empowered to probe corruption cases against officials doing away with the practice of conducting departmental probe along with a CBI enquiry. However, the government members rejected.
The other issue discussed in the meeting was the structure of Lokpal. The Hazare team proposed a 11-member independent anti-corruption watchdog with subordinates having powers while the government side differed arguing that only 11 members be empowered to take decisions. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal said the committee will again meet on June 20 and 21 in an attempt to bridge differences.
“It is clear there are areas where there are strong divergence of opinion...Hopefully the civil society members will give us a draft on issues of divergence. We ourselves will prepare a draft on the issues on which we think there are divergence and we will try and arrive at a consensus.
“If no consensus is arrived, then we will forward a draft bill with both versions so that the Cabinet can take a view,” he said. The process will be completed by June 30.
Claiming that nothing could be achieved from today's meeting, activist Arvind Kejriwal said, “the government is trying to kill the Lokpal even before it is born.”
“Structurally, there was no convergence of opinion on the shape of the Lokpal would be, both at central and state level,” Sibal said.
The Hazare camp, which boycotted last meeting on June six alleging that government was playing a fraud, maintained that the deliberations over one and a half months were “pretence” on part of the government.
Kejriwal said they will not boycott the next meetings as the civil society members of the ten-member committee are keen to ensure that the country gets a strong Lokpal Bill.
“We were raising arguments over issues but the government side was only giving decisions. Even on small issues, it was hard to convince them. It seems that the government has made up its mind and is not ready to discuss,” he said.
While Sibal said there will be a single Cabinet note that will carry versions of both the sides, the Hazare team claimed that two drafts of the Bill will be put up before the cabinet for consideration.
The civil society members were sceptical of what the Cabinet will decide. “It is their Cabinet. What can you expect (from it)?” Kejriwal said.
The contentious issue of bringing the post of Prime Minister under the purview of Lokpal was not discussed in the meeting, said Sibal and Kejriwal.
Sibal said both the versions would be placed before the Cabinet so that there is no such feeling that the stand of the civil society has been ignored. The areas where there is agreement will also be put up in the draft Lokpal Bill.
“We have not yet decided on the future course of action and are considering their suggestions,” he said. About the allegations levelled by the civil society against the ministers, Sibal said the Hazare-team has attributed it to “outsiders”.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the civil society wanted to have a Lokpal with powers vested at the lower level.
“But the government wants to concentrate its powers at the higher level and wants the watchdog to investigate the higher officials,” he said. PTI