Lokpal Bill: In final lap, rush to reconcile

After the heated exchanges of last week, Team Anna and government representatives got back together to cover substantial ground on the Lokpal Bill today. The two sides agreed on several issues, including a 10-year maximum sentence for corruption and a large corpus to fund the Lokpal.

But the larger issue of control over the bureaucracy and the extent of the Lokpal's powers remained unresolved. Government representatives strongly resisted the bid by Team Anna to include clauses with a potential to weaken the political executive and create a possibly counterproductive superstructure.

Each side will now present its own draft of the Bill at the final meeting of the committee tomorrow evening, where an attempt will be made to merge them into a common draft for Cabinet and, subsequently, Parliament approval.

Hazare's side asked today to be allowed to make a presentation at the planned all-party meeting, a suggestion on which joint drafting committee chairman Pranab Mukherjee said only the Prime Minister could decide. Mukherjee, however, suggested that the activists could send their presentation to all parties before the meeting.

Among the unresolved issues at the end of today's three-hour meeting was the activists' demand that the Lokpal be allowed to initiate disciplinary proceedings against allegedly corrupt officials. Government representatives said this could result in the bureaucracy ceasing to heed the political executive. Mukherjee suggested that the Lokpal could instead recommend disciplinary proceedings after guilt was established, with the government having to act within a specified timeframe.

Though it wasn't discussed today, differences persist on bringing the Prime Minister and higher judiciary under the Lokpal.

The activists wanted the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) to be part of the Lokpal appointment committee. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal pointed out that the CAG and CEC themselves were appointees of the government, and advised the activists to have some trust in the committee's capabilities. Arvind Kejriwal reportedly countered that the offices of CAG and CEC were more independent that others, to which Sibal suggested that the government could then look at including somebody from the education sector as well, like the chairperson of the Academy of Sciences.

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