Judiciary out of Lokpal? Team Anna softens stand
NEW DELHI: The 40-hour standoff between Anna Hazare and the government ended on Thursday, with the Gandhian leader agreeing that his fast would not exceed 15 days. The Hazare group also clearly indicated that it is ready to drop its insistence over a key sticking point on inclusion of the higher judiciary within the ambit of the proposed Lokpal law.
Team Anna might consider dropping the contentious demand to bring the judiciary in the anti-corruption ombudsman’s jurisdiction if the government delivers on a strong judicial accountability bill. The inclusion of higher judiciary has been opposed by both the government and main opposition party BJP on the ground that it would affect the independence of the courts.
There is also a possibility that the Hazare group and the government might be able to find middle ground on another important demand relating to including the prime minister in the law’s jurisdiction.
If the government’s plans for a Judicial Accountability and Standards Bill meet the expectations of the activists, judicial probity need not be addressed by the Lokpal, said Anna’s associate Arvind Kejriwal. “If a strong judicial accountability bill is brought to Parliament, we are open to excluding this from the Lokpal,” he said.
Hazare’s associates sealed a deal with Delhi police early on Thursday morning and Kejriwal said Anna’s fast would not continue beyond 15 days. “It depends on how the government responds to the demands put before it,” he said. This was echoed by another key member of Team Anna, Kiran Bedi, who said the Gandhian would fast as long as his medical examiners, including Dr Naresh Trehan, felt he should.
Clauses of the undertaking that Team Anna has agreed to and which were part of the original terms include – no damage to public property; gathering will not exceed the limit of the ground; the crowd will not spill over to nearby roads; protesters will cooperate with traffic police; loud speaker use within the ambit of a Supreme Court order setting a 10 pm limit.
Team Anna, however, is insistent that the Lokpal must be able to probe the Prime Minister. “The PM has to be in the ambit of the Lokpal,” Kejriwal said. There is a possibility of this demand being conceded as unlike in the case of higher judiciary, BJP and Left parties differ with the government with the Opposition backing the activists.
Government sources felt the inclusion of the PM’s office with riders like excluding decisions relating to national security and foreign policy can be considered by the standing committee examining the Lokpal bill. It is a bargaining chip the government can use. At the Cabinet meeting that cleared the bill, four ministers supported Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s view that examination of an incumbent PM is better than an inquiry after he demits office.
Indications from both camps point to the likelihood of another round of negotiations or at least exchange of proposals with the government still opposed to Team Anna’s demand for a large bureaucratic structure and inclusion of lower-level officials in the law’s ambit. The government sees Lokpal as an institution to specifically combat corruption in high places.
Speaking to TOI, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the core committee of India against Corruption was meeting on Friday to discuss the demands. “The matter will be discussed in the core committee then.” Sources said while the group has been militant about its demands, it would soon decide on the inclusion of judiciary.
Team Anna’s statements gain significance as they come at a time when they have won a battle of wills with the Centre after a 40-hour standoff. The breakthrough came in the small hours on Thursday after Anna associates met Delhi Police commissioner B K Gupta, and reached an agreement.
The other clauses are arrangements for drinking water, medical aid, mobile toilets, proper lighting; no carrying of lathis or weapons; no provocative slogans or speeches; no inflammatory slogans within 200 meters of religious or worship places; care to be taken of public safety and no use of crackers.
Medical examination of Anna and those who will keep fast along with him will be conducted by government doctors thrice a day, while Team Anna promised to abide by the April 16, 2009, order of the Supreme Court which stipulated rules and regulations for public protests.