A division bench of Justice B.D. Ahmed and Justice Sidharth Mridul, hearing a plea against the proposal to hold a session outside the assembly building to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill, sought the government response by Thursday.
“When you (the government) have a legislative assembly (building), tell us what is the need of holding assembly at another place. Tell us whether there is any bar in law to hold assembly outside the (designated) premises,” asked the bench.
The bench asked counsel representing the government to apprise it whether the lt governor approved of holding an assembly session in a stadium.
The court’s order came on a plea filed by Kedar Mandal, an assistant professor in Delhi University, against the decision of the government to hold the assembly session outside the designated premises saying it will incur an expenditure of Rs.50 lakh.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has decided to hold an open assembly session on the Jan Lokpal Bill at Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium starting from Feb 14.
There is hardly any similarity between 50-year-old Raghubir Prasad, a rickshaw puller from Bihar, and 20-year-old Meneka Sharma, a student in Delhi. Yet they have been bound together by a common link called Anna Hazare.
Prasad has been literally camping at the Ramlila Maidan here in central Delhi for the past 11 days – ever since the 74-year-old activist came here to continue his fast protest in demand for a strong, anti-graft bill.
Like scores of other supporters, Prasad eats and sleeps at the sprawling ground, going out around mid-day to ferry passengers. He is not able to earn much money but has no complaints.
“Anna ji is in fast because of people like me. We suffer everyday because people are so corrupt. The traffic policemen take bribe from us to allow us to ride on the roads – as it is we earn a pittance, then with the bribe and the money that we have to pay the owner of the rickshaw, we are hardly left with anything,” Prasad told IANS, bursting with angst.
Sharma, a well dressed college goer, is another victim of corruption.
“I wanted to study medical, but could not get admission to a particular college because they demanded a couple of lakhs as capitation fee and my father refused. My cousin faced a similar fate,” Sharma told IANS, wearing a tricoloured stole around her neck.
“I am studying in Delhi University now….but for the past 11 days I and some of my friends have hardly attended any class. This cause is greater than anything else because we have all been victims to corruption at some time or the other and it’s high time that comes to an end. We come here early in the day and stay on till evening, raising slogans and helping in some volunteering work,” she added.
Ask them about the Jan Lokpal bill which Anna Hazare and his team are pushing for, Prasad and Sharma had different takes.
“I know that Anna ji wants the Lokpal (bill)…but I don’t know what that is,” Prasad admitted, giving a sheepish smile as this correspondent’s eyes hovered around his t-shirt with the slogan ‘Pass the Jan Lokpal bill now!’.
“I am illiterate madam ji…I don’t know these jargons. All I know is that Anna ji is fighting against corruption and if what he is fighting for comes through, the monster will be killed,” he said.
The 20-year-old collegiate was however well aware of the facts.
“The Jan Lokpal bill seeks to make everyone accountable. Accountability is very important to end corruption. Why should the prime minister or the judiciary be left out of the Lokpal’s ambit? What is the fear? If you are clean you shouldn’t be scared,” Sharma said confidently as the rest of her friends nodded in approval.
On the 12th day of Hazare’s fast Saturday, the Ramlila ground is swelling with people. There are young children, college goers, professionals, housewives, rickshaw pullers, shop owners and the elderly.
“It’s difficult to assess the number of people – they are in thousands! Being a weekend and a possible decision coming from the parliament, the numbers are bound to increase by a couple of thousands more today,” a volunteer at the ground said.
At the New Delhi Metro station, officials said the ranks of commuters have swelled.
According to the Metro officials, the overall footfall of the New Delhi Metro station has gone up by a few thousands over the last 10-12 days. While the usual footfall in this station is 40,000, it went up to 65,000 last weekend and is expected to surpass that this weekend.
“I hope something good comes out of this,” an elderly gentleman sitting at the Ramlila ground, looking at a group of young supporters screaming ‘Anna Tum Sangharsh Karo, Hum Tumhare Saath Hai!’.
The virtual climbdown by the government came Thursday after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made an emotive appeal to Hazare to end his hunger strike in view of his failing health but the 74-year-old activist declined unless parliament discussed three key issues.
These are —
covering the lower bureaucracy in any Lokpal,
setting up Lokayuktas in the states and
framing Citizen’s Charters for all government departments.
Doctors monitoring Hazare’s health Friday morning said his blood pressure was normal.
‘Anna has lost seven kg of weight. However, he is stable. His blood pressure is normal. We are monitoring him round the clock,’ a doctor said after Hazare’s regular medical check up in the morning.
Kiran Bedi of Team Anna tweeted late Thursday: ‘If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is supportive of several key issues as was evident in the meeting (between the BJP leadership and Team Anna), the onus is on the government now’.
While Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal Thursday said the BJP broadly agreed with their version of the anti-graft bill, veteran party leader L.K. Advani Friday said the Jan Lokpal bill had some inherent flaws due to which it would not be passed in the parliament in its present form.
‘I know what are the flaws in the provisions of the Jan Lokpal bill due to which it will not get passed. And this, I tried to explain to them (Team Anna) yesterday,’ Advani told a group of students from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) who called on him Friday morning.
He, however, added that the BJP was in support of any legislation that will fight corruption effectively.
Social activist Medha Patkar, who is supporting the anti-corruption campaign of Anna Hazare, Tuesday said that no political party had so far given their written support on the civil society’s Jan Lokpal bill. She also criticized writer Arundhati Roy for likening Hazare’s movement to the Maoist movement, saying it was aimed at destabilising the country.
Patkar, who was here to participate in the India Against Corruption’s Madhya Pradesh chapter, asked about political parties’ reaction to the Jan Lokpal bill, said: “No political party has given any written reaction on Jan Lokpal so far.”
She also warned the parties on the issue. “But if the parties, who make manifestos and forget it after elections, such thinking is not going to work anymore. Now the time has come that the politicians who would be clean and support Jan Lokpal will only win and return to parliament.”
She also said that no tainted politician should come to talk with Anna Hazare over the Lokpal issue.
However, she quickly added, “It is my personal opinion and the final decision should be taken by the core committee of Anna Hazare team.”
Asked if the Manmohan Singh government had entrusted the responsibility of talking to Hazare on former Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, she replied, “I always said that tainted politicians should not mediate in the issue, and for the government Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan is a better option than Vilasrao Deshmukh, as his image is clean so far.”
Patkar criticised writer Arundhati Roy for her article in The Hindu in which she said Anna Hazare’s movement and the Maoists’ movement were similar and aimed to destabilize the country.
“I have respect for her, but here I beg to differ as Anna Hazare’s movement is not to weaken democracy but to strengthen the constitution.”
She also rubbished the claim of Arundhati Roy that the Ford Foundation and Coca-Cola’s money had been used in the movement.
“So far as I know, no such money has been used in the movement, and till we are supporting it we will insure no such money can be used.”
Reacting to the criticism of Hazare’s movement by other social activists like Shabnam Hashmi, Udit Raj and Tushar Gandhi, Patkar said, “We have great respect for all of them and we have worked together on several issues, but in a country of 1.21 billion, people will criticize, and this had happened with Mahatma Gandhi’s movements too,” she added.
Later, the members of India Against Corruption led by Patkar gheraeod the offices of Congress and BJP demanding a strong Lokpal bill.
Terming Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill “impractical and complicated”, noted social activist and National Advisory Council ( NAC) member Aruna Roy said that giving widespread powers to an unelected body is a “threat to democracy”.
“Jan Lokpal is a bill impossible to implement. Also, it derails the checks and balances between the judiciary, executive and other organs of the democratic structure,” Roy, 65, who pioneered the right to information (RTI) movement in the country, told in an interview here.
“Not that we agree with the government Lokpal Bill. The Lokpal legislation should be thoroughly deliberated again by activists, lawmakers and all other stakeholders.
“We of course support the democratic right of Hazare to hold demonstrations and fast against the government. That is why we condemned the arrest of Hazare,” she said.
“But we have no meeting point with them, though we keep meeting each other at functions and meetings of common interest,” she added.
Asked about the huge public support Hazare has drawn, Roy said: “There have been huge gatherings in support of NGO-sponsored agitations, like the Narmada Bachao movement. It might not have got similar publicity, as live TV was not there then.”
Roy and her fellow activists in the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) have prepared an alternate version of the Lokpal bill, which will be presented to parliament’s standing committee.
Roy, a Magsaysay award winner, said the Jan Lokpal bill is a “giant, complicated exercise” as it tried to extend from the prime minister to a peon.
“It wants to bring the higher judiciary into its ambit, which otherwise should have been under the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010,” she said.
She felt that the suggestion of dual duties — curbing corruption and redressing grievances — under the Jan Lokpal was not feasible.
“The Jan Lokpal is a threat to democracy as a powerful, non-elected agency can lead to abuse of power and abuse of authority. Power corrupts and absolutely power corrupts absolutely,” she quipped.
“Grievance redressal should not be the role of the Lokpal; it should be the work of the executive.
“See, wages of lakhs of workers in the NREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) in Rajasthan have not been paid. But that is because the shortage of bank staff and other bureaucratic delays,” she said.
The massive organisational setup suggested in the Jan Lokpal will lead to corruption and inefficiency, she cautioned.
“You may be able to find 11 Lokpal members of integrity, but it is difficult to create a clean set-up of thousands of staffers and hold them accountable,” Roy said.
The government-drafted Lokpal is also deficient on several fronts, she added. Since it excludes cases under the state governments, there can be no probe against cases like the Adarsh housing society scandal, the Commonwealth Games scam and illegal mining in Karnataka.
She said excluding the prime minister and the higher judiciary was wrong. “This is a wrong practice. Nobody should be above the law,” she said, adding that there should be certain safeguards. “Like both the Lokpal and the Supreme Court should agree on a probe against the prime minister.”
Roy also suggested that the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill should be revised to facilitate effective action against the higher judiciary while the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) should be strengthened to probe junior officials.
The whistleblowers’ protection bill too should be revised to deal with the increasing attacks and threats against RTI activists, she suggested.
“The Lokpal bill should not become an issue of adamant stances, political rivalries and personality-driven agitations. What we need is a sincere, detailed debate for legislation of immense social significance and public concern,” she said.
Roy, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from 1968 to 1974, resigned from the government as the clouds of Emergency were gathering. She took to social work in the Social Work Research Centre in Tilonia in Rajasthan, founded by her husband Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy, another Magsaysay award winner.
However, she professionally disassociated from her husband in 1983, reportedly for ideological reasons, and founded the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana (Workers and Peasants Strength Union) in 1990 in Devdoongri in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan.
Roy’s campaign for right to information led to the enactment of the RTI Act – in Rajasthan in 2000 and five years later at the national level.
Social activist Anna Hazare, whose fast to push through the Jan Lokpal bill continued for the fifth day Saturday, has promised more fights in the days ahead – for land reforms, farmers’ rights and a better education system.
Though he has begun betraying some signs of tiredness due to his hunger-strike, the 74-year-old Hazare declared he will “not give up”.
“I have lost 3.5 kg over the past four days… but there is nothing to worry,” the activist said, as the crowd of supporters at the Ramlila Ground in central Delhi cheered.
“I will not give up…we will keep fighting until we get the Jan Lokpal bill passed,” he added.
Hazare also said his fight won’t stop at the Lokpal bill.
“Farmers are forced to commit suicide. Their lands are being taken forcibly and given to builders and companies…we have to fight for farmers. The education system has become so corrupt that we have to pay money to get our children admitted in schools and colleges,” he said.
Hazare said the government knows all this but does not do anything.
“There is a big chain of corruption and we have to break that…we will bring a change in the country,” he said.
Sitting at an elevated platform at the Ramlila Ground where he and his team 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.
He has been on fast since Aug 16 to press his demand for a stronger Lokpal Bill.
Calling people of India his family, Hazare said: “I might not have a family but all you people are my family and together we can do lot of things. We have to fight for true independence and a real republic.”