Gap narrows between Team Anna and govt; compromise likely today

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Gap narrows between Team Anna and govt; compromise likely today
Highlights
  • Lokpal Bill: Anna Hazare's doctors said the 74-year-old activist slept through the night which has helped improve his condition; he is now on the ninth day of his hunger fast.
Anna Hazare's doctors said the 74-year-old activist slept through the night which has helped improve his condition; he is now on the ninth day of his hunger fast.

Anna appeared on stage a little before 11 am; lying down on the massive stage at his camp at Ramlila Maidan, he was seen clapping to patriotic songs performed by his supporters. "There is an atmosphere of sacrifice in the country.  I have lost only six kilos. There's nothing to worry about.  You are keeping me strong," he said. (Read: Who is Anna Hazare?)

Amid reports that his associates and the government are inching their way towards a compromise on the controversial Lokpal Bill, Anna suggested a truce is still out of reach. The Bill is meant to create an independent agency that will investigate venality among public servants.  "The government still does not seem committed to fighting corruption; it seems scared that if we have an honest country, their funds will dry up," Anna said. (Read: What is Jan Lokpal Bill?)

He went on to say that any version of the Lokpal Bill must cover junior bureaucrats - a point the government has so far disagreed with.  

As news spread last evening of Anna's worsening health, the Prime Minister wrote to Anna, urging him to end his hunger strike against corruption. Doctors warned last night that his blood pressure and vital signs were worrying. The Prime Minister this morning has reportedly expressed his concern again over Anna's health and urged him to accept medical assistance. Sources say Dr Manmohan Singh has sent another message to Anna, reiterating the promise he made in last evening's letter to introduce a strong new Lokpal Bill to tackle corruption. (Read: Prime Minister's letter to Anna Hazare)

Both the government and Anna's associates are hoping that he will be able to consider ending his hunger strike today after both sides bridge the gap on their separate versions of the Lokpal Bill.  The government hopes to bring the Opposition on board at an all-party meeting scheduled for 3.30 this afternoon.  The government would like for a breakthrough to be announced before the Prime Minister's iftaar party this evening.

The Lokpal  Bill  has three avatars - the government's draft was introduced in Parliament last week; the activists' version is what Team Anna wants passed in this session of Parliament which ends on September 8 - an unrealistic deadline, according to some in the government.  Anna's aides have asked that the government withdraw its version because it's weak and exempts too many public servants from being investigated by an independent agency that would be created to handle charges of corruption. A third version of the Bill, created by a group of activists led by Aruna Roy, has also been submitted to a Parliamentary committee for scrutiny.

Sources say that most of the contentious issues between Team Anna and the government have been resolved. For example, the government has agreed that the Lokpal Bill should cover the Prime Minister. The activists, in exchange, have accepted that corruption charges against senior judges will be addressed through the Judicial Accountability Bill, which will be vetted by the activists, and introduced in Parliament along with a modified Lokpal Bill. There is consensus also on the extent that the anti-corruption wings of the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission will report to the Lokpal.  

What remains to be resolved is whether junior bureaucrats should be reviewed by the Lokpal Bill.  The activists say that's essential; the government says this will require 20,000 people to work with the Lokpal or ombudsman committee.  Other areas of difference include whether states should draft their own versions of the Lokpal Bill or implement the one passed at the centre. The activists also want a citizen's charter to be adopted by every government department which would detail the duties of officials in that team and include penalties for under-performance.
   
Formal negotiations were launched last evening, with the government deputing Pranab Mukherjee, its serial trouble-shooter, to meet with three of Anna's reps.   After the meeting, Anna's aides said that while the talks were "fruitful" and "constructive," Anna would need a written commitment from the government on how it plans to introduce his version of the Lokpal Bill in Parliament.

The Prime Minister wrote to Anna last evening, expressing concern over the activist's frail health, and offering that Anna's Lokpal Bill could be studied by the Parliamentary standing committee that already has the government's draft.  However, Team Anna wants their Lokpal Bill to be debated directly by Parliament, which would entail bypassing any deliberations at the committee level.

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