Government refusing to hand over Lokpal audio tapes: Team Anna

The government yesterday refused to hand-over the audio recordings of the meetings of the drafting committee for the Lokpal bill when five of the ten members demanded it, the Civil Society leaders participating in the Lokpal bill drafting committee said. They also said that the Government ministers did not discuss any point, but “simply announced their decisions” in the meeting, without giving elaborate justifications.

“It was clear today that the government had already made up its mind. The talks were just a formality. Inside the committee, the civil society members keep arguing strenuously on each point and the government ministers simply announce their decisions, even if they do not have arguments,” India Against Corruption (IAC), the umbrella body representing the different organizations participating in the anti-corruption movement said.

IAC painted a picture of a totally non-cooperative government that was simply announcing its decisions instead of holding talks in the meeting, as was agreed a month ago. “The government’s intentions became very clear today. It wants to kill Lokpal before it were born.”

According to the version ‘announced’ by the government, the Lokpal will be far less imposing than the investigative-cum-semi-judicial all-India organization sought by the activists.

The biggest point of debate has indeed been whether it would be an all-India organization — with branches and offices in each district and with investigative infrastructure similar to the CBI — or whether it would be like a single Court based in Delhi. The government wants an emaciated and disempowered Lokpal, said IAC.

“Government says that it would be an eleven member body. Benches of these eleven members would take all decisions… So, if an income tax officer demanded a bribe to give an income tax refund in Bangalore, the citizen will have to make a complaint to the eleven member body in Delhi and come to Delhi for hearings. “There would be thousands of complaints from across the country. How will these eleven members deal with it?” asked civil society members.

“The government did not reply. They just announced their decision. This is a sure way of killing Lokpal before it was born. We wanted a Lokpal with officers working under it at district level, who would have powers to deal with cases at local level. Government refuses to accept that model,” the IAC said in its summary of the talks held on Wednesday.

Apparently indignant at the government stone-walling through the negotiations, the Civil Society members asked for the audio recordings of the deliberations of the Committee. The Government had agreed to record the meetings on audio as a compromise with the Civil Society that wanted the proceedings to be open to the public through TV channels.

“We demanded copies of audio tapes of the proceedings so far. They refused. We said that we were committee members and should have a right to take copies of audio tapes of the proceedings. They said they could consider it after all the meetings were over. We said – “do you promise to give us copies of all tapes in the last meeting?” Again they were non-committal.

“It is really surprising why is the government hesitating in making the discussions public? Perhaps the world would come to know that the government has vetoed on practically all points without having any valid arguments,” IAC said in its statement.

“In the end, the government nominees suggested that we bring our version of Lokpal Bill in the next meeting, they would bring their version of Lokpal Bill. In the next meeting, they would see whether there could be consensus on any more issues. Finally two Bills will be sent to the Cabinet,” it added.

The Lokpal is India’s top anti-corruption body that has been in the design stage for nearly forty years. Various government have suggested various structures for the body, but have never come round to passing the bill in the Parliament. According to some, the reason for the delay is because of the conflict of interest faced by the elected members of the Parliament in passing the bill that would create a corruption-checking authority with powers to dismiss them.

Suggesting that the politicians will never put up a body with teeth to watch over themselves, veteran Gandhian Anna Hazare, who has converted his village into a model Gandhian abode with merely the power of his advice, launched a people’s movement to force the politicians to pass an effective bill. At the end of five days of fasts and mass rallie — the largest in 35 years — the Congress-led government agreed to form a consultative committee with the activists to thrash out a Lokpal bill and present it in June to the Parliament.