Panel discusses new Lokpal Bill

New Delhi: The government-civil society discussions on a new Lokpal Bill got off to a fairly smooth start here on Saturday with the activists presenting a new draft legislation to deal with corruption.

Mr. Anna Hazare and his four nominees met five top Union Ministers for 90 minutes in the North Block in the aftermath of his 98—hour fast which he ended Saturday last following the government’s acceptance of the demand for a 10—member panel to draft the bill.

Nothing contentious appears to have cropped up at the meeting chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee since the panel addressed the broad contours of the issue. “It went off well,” Mr. Hazare said.

Media headlines focusing on a controversial CD purportedly containing a conversation between the panel’s co—chairman Shanti Bhushan and Samajwadi Party leaders regarding judiciary, did not come up at the meeting.

Mr. Bhushan has lodged an FIR over the issue.

The original far—reaching draft legislation prepared by the civil society which had come in for considerable criticism was replaced by its representatives with a newer version which the government’s side appears to have found more reasonable.

Mr. Prashant Bhushan, one of the civil society representatives on the committee, said the only change in the draft bill relates to the selection panel to choose the Lokpal and its members.

Under the revised proposal, Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha have replaced Rajya Sabha Chairman and Lok Sabha Speaker.

However, government sources said the revised draft makes no mention of action against higher judiciary, ministers and bureaucrats.

One of the ministers, who attended the meeting, said the new draft could be worked upon. From the government side, the Lokpal bill of 2001, which had been referred to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, would be shared with the civil society representatives.

The next meeting scheduled for May 2 is expected to discuss the two drafts in detail.

The civil society representatives had on Friday said that their draft should be the basis for the new draft. But on Saturday Prashant Bhushan said that they were ready to look at other drafts that would come their way.

Both sides expressed the hope that the new bill would be ready by June 30, the deadline set in the notification constituting the committee.