|Anna Hazare (top), P Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal (above) come out after the meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday. Pictures by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, June 15: The Lokpal bill joint drafting committee appears to be staring at a dead end.
The government and the Anna Hazare group today failed to reach a consensus on the Lokpals structure and powers at the seventh — and possibly penultimate — meeting of the joint drafting panel.
At the meeting, the two sides agreed they had irreconcilable differences. It was decided that the panels note to the cabinet, to be sent by June 30, would have two versions of the bill: one of the governments and one of the Hazare groups. The cabinet would then take a call on which version to forward to Parliament.
The panel will meet next week, possibly on June 20 or 21, for a last-ditch bid at consensus. But a source said the meeting would be to carry out the committees funeral.
HRD minister Kapil Sibal said the two sides would bring their respective versions to the next meeting to see whether there could be consensus on any more issues. Ultimately, two bills would be sent to the cabinet.
After two-and-a-half hours, the two sides accused each other of killing the process. Sibal and other ministers objected to the Hazare groups incessant name-calling at forums outside the committee conference hall.
The group, in turn, accused the government of having killed the bill even before its birth. Panel member Arvind Kejriwal termed the nearly two-month long drafting process a sham.
The governments intentions became very clear today. It wants to kill Lokpal before its birth. They want to create a Lokpal without any administrative or investigative machinery — an emaciated and disempowered Lokpal, said lawyer Prashant Bhushan, a panel member.
The Hazare group said the government nominees had insisted that the Lokpal would be an 11-member body empowered to receive public grievances from ordinary people. Benches of these members would take all decisions.
Complainants from across India will have to come to Delhi for hearings. There would be thousands of complaints from across the country. How will these 11 members deal with it? asked Kejriwal.
The former income tax officer said the Hazare group wanted a Lokpal with officers working under it at district level, who would have the powers to deal with cases at local level. Government refuses to accept that model.
The Hazare group claimed the other issue of divergence was whether the Lokpal should be empowered to probe corruption cases against officials, ending the practice of conducting a departmental probe along with a CBI inquiry. The government rejected this, said Bhushan.
It was clear today the government had already made up its mind. The talks were just a formality, he added.
The group alleged the government had refused to give its members copies of audio recordings of the panels proceedings. Kejriwal accused the government of being anxious because the world would come to know that the government has vetoed on practically all points without having any valid argument.
The two sides have differences on whether the PMO, judiciary and MPs should come under the Lokpals ambit.
It is clear there are areas where there are strong divergence of opinion.… If consensus is not arrived at, we will forward a draft bill with both versions so that the cabinet can take a view, Sibal said.