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Open to discussions on Lokpal, says PM as Hazare fast continues

New Delhi: Signalling the government’s willingness to accommodate Team Anna’s concerns, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday said he was open to discussions on a strong Lokpal Bill even as Anna Hazare vowed to continue his fast till the the civil society’s version of the Lokpal bill is passed by parliament.

“Our hope is that we can list the cooperation of all thinking segments of Indian public opinion to ensure that the end product is strong and effective Lokpal, which all sections of our community want today,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told some journalists after a full meeting of the Planning Commission here.

“There are difficulties. There is logic of the legislative process. Certain stages have to be crossed. I hope people will appreciate that there is dynamics of the legislative process, which takes time sometimes,” the prime minister said.

The prime minister’s comments comments came as the parliamentary standing committee looking into the Lokpal Bill has sought the views of people on the bill through newspaper advertisements.

Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who heads the standing committee on personnel, public grievances and law and justice that is looking into the Lokpal Bill, also conveyed the panel’s intention to consider all suggestions.

“Consultations related to Lokpal are open… It is a serious exercise. We will go clause by clause,” Singhvi said.

Hazare, who has lost weight since he began the fast Tuesday for an omnibus anti-graft bill, said he would continue protesting till the Jan Lokpal bill, drafted by his group, is passed by parliament.

“I have lost 3.5 kg over the past four days… but there is nothing to worry… I will not give up… we will keep fighting till we get the Jan Lokpal bill passed,” Hazare told his supporters at the Ramlila Ground here Saturday.

Sitting at an elevated platform at the ground where he and his team began have been given permission by Delhi Police to continue their protest from Friday until Sep 2, Hazare has been drawing massive crowds from across the country.

Hazare had Friday said that if the bill is not passed in parliament by Aug 30, people should begin a “jail bharo (fill the jails)” movement.

Hazare’s associate Arvind Kejriwal said Saturday they had mass support and were not forcing their ideology on the people.

“The masses are here to express they will not tolerate corruption. If we were forcing our view, you would not have seen this crowd that has gathered,” Kejriwal told IANS at Ramlila ground.

He also urged the parliamentary standing committee looking into the Lokpal Bill to reject the government’s bill, saying it will only waste time over it.

Reacting to the newspaper advertisement by the parliamentary panel, Kejriwal said it will not serve the purpose as the government bill was “wrong”.

He said the civil society members had requested the standing committee to completely reject the bill and send it back to the government.

“But we think that by accepting this bill and calling for public feedback, they will only be wasting their time. It needs complete overhaul, (it) cannot be amended,” Kejriwal said.
He said if the government were to go for a referendum on the bill, the government draft will be totally trashed by the people.

Kejriwal said that Team Anna had told the standing committee that the government bill protects corruption.

On the plan of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Varun Gandhi to introduce the Jan Lokpal bill as a private members bill, Kejriwal said it did not mean much.

He said a private member’s bill is “more symbolic in nature”.
Meanwhile, at the Ramlila Ground, early morning walkers and school students were among the first visitors at the protest site, while the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) workers were busy cleaning the garbage left by the supporters overnight.

Hazare’s supporters began the day by forming groups and singing songs, as many volunteers began distributing water, tea and biscuits to supporters.

Hazare began his fast Tuesday when he was taken to Tihar Jail and released the same day — but he refused to move out. He came out of the jail Friday and continued his fast at the Ramlila Ground.

The government and social activists differ over inclusion of the prime minister and judiciary in the Lokpal bill.

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