New Delhi, Aug 24: Convening an all-party meeting in the backdrop of Anna Hazare's fast, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today affirmed his commitment for a strong and effective Lokpal and wanted the Gandhian to work with the government in a “spirit of cooperative engagement” in this regard.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, Singh said Hazare's fast and “failing health” are a matter of concern and that was why he took a personal initiative yesterday to appeal to him to end his hunger strike.
Seeking “guidance” from the political parties on “way forward” amid Hazare's campaign, he said the Hazare team had demanded that their version of Lokpal be introduced in Parliament in four days and passed during this session, even if means extension, without referring it to the Standing Committee.
He said Hazare's team also wanted written commitments from the government before they could “hopefully persuade” him to stop his fast.
“Yesterday, I felt that I should take personal initiative to appeal to Shri Anna Hazareji to end his fast so that we may work together in a spirit of cooperative engagement to bring into existence a strong Lokpal,” Singh said.
Noting that he had personally stated the Government's position in public on more than one occasion, he said, “We want a strong and effective Lokpal Bill. Accordingly, we would like the Standing Committee to consider all points of view to evolve a broad based national consensus to create a strong institution of the Lokpal.”
Our common objective is to build a strong and independent institution that will deal effectively with corruption, which is a major challenge that confronts our democracy and our nation,” the Prime Minister said.
Apparently referring to Hazare's campaign, he said, “recent developments have raised issues, related to the functioning of our Parliamentary democracy, that concern all of us. I, therefore, thought it appropriate to convene this meeting to brief you on these developments and seek your guidance on the way forward.”
Singh said he had written to Hazare yesterday, requesting him to end his fast and reiterated government's intention to pass the “best possible” Lokpal Bill with inputs from civil society and on the basis of the “broadest possible consensus”.
After the letter, Hazare agreed to hold discussions with the government, he said, adding Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Law Minister Salman Khurshid accordingly met three representatives of the civil activist to “find a way out of the present impasse”.
Giving brief details of these talks, Singh said broadly the position of the Hazare team was that government should withdraw the Bill introduced in Parliament and the Jan Lokpal Bill be introduced with “some changes” in Parliament within four days.
The Hazare team also wanted that the Bill be discussed and passed during the current session of Parliament by extending it, if necessary, with “minor amendments” adopted by Parliament and without referring the Bill to Standing Committee.
“If a written commitment can be given with timelines, then the representatives said they can hopefully persuade Annaji to stop his fast,” he said.
Referring to his letter, Singh said he had pointed out that the matter was with the Parliamentary Standing Committee which was entitled to consider not only the Bill introduced by the government but the Jan Lokpal Bill and other versions like that prepared by another civil activist Aruna Roy as well.
He noted that he had told Hazare that the government was prepared to request Lok Sabha Speaker to formally refer the Jan Lokpal Bill also to the Standing Committee for its “holistic consideration” along with everything else.
The government can also formally request the Standing Committee to fast-track its deliberations to the extent reasonably Recounting that he had convened an all-party meeting on July 3 where it was agreed that a strong Lokpal Bill should be enacted to deal with corruption, Singh said a legislation prepared accordingly by the government was currently with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice.
“Meanwhile, Shri Anna Hazareji and his colleagues have continued to maintain their stand in support of the Jan Lokpal Bill,” he said adding the civil activist had subsequently gone on fast from August 16 to press their demands. PTI