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Talks back to square one, says civil society

The standoff capped another hectic day of activities when major political parties made it clear that to the government that nothing should be done to undermine Parliament and the Constitution

New Delhi: Talks between the government and Team Anna Hazare ended in a deadlock on Wednesday night with the two sides failing to resolve the key issues, prompting the civil society to declare that they were ‘back to square one’, reports PTI.

Upset at the lack of progress, Anna Hazare’s three representatives—Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Kiran Bedi—said after another round of talks with government interlocutors headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee that difference between government’s attitude on Tuesday and the following day was marked like ‘day and night’.

They were of the view that talks were ‘back to square one’ although the government said another round of discussions will be held on Thursday.

In a confirmation that Parliamentary procedures cannot be short-circuited, a point underlined by major political parties, Mr Mukherjee said after the meeting that the government had hoped that Parliamentary process will be allowed to complete its exercise and make recommendations on Jan Lokpal Bill for its adoption.

Referring to recommendations of the all-party meeting that due consideration should be given to Jan Lokpal Bill so that the final draft provides for a ‘strong and effective’ Lokpal, he said the government is committed to implementing the spirit of the decision.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh, in his letter to Hazare on Tuesday, ‘assured’ that the Jan Lokpal Bill would be referred to the Standing Committee and to make its recommendation, the process will also be expedited as per the discretion of the Standing Committee, Mr Mukherjee said.

The standoff capped another hectic day of activities when major political parties made it clear that to the government that nothing should be done to undermine Parliament and the Constitution.

Despite hard negotiations, differences persisted over seven issues, including bringing the prime minister under its ambit.

The prime minister candidly admitted on Wednesday night that the government was in a ‘bind’ from which it has to come out with ‘practical and pragmatic’ solutions.

Law minister Salman Khurshid told reporters after the 90-minute deliberations with the Hazare team that the government would not allow undermining of its bill which has been passed by the Cabinet.

At the all-party meeting, both the Left parties and BJP urged the government to withdraw its Lokpal bill now before a Parliamentary Standing Committee.

The all-party meeting made an appeal to Mr Hazare, whose fast at Ramlila Grounds entered the ninth day on Wednesday, to call it off. But Mr Hazare maintained that he would not do so.

Sources present at the all-party meeting said that out of 40 points presented by the civil society in its Jan Lokpal bill, there was complete agreement on 26, broad agreement on seven and persisting differences on the remaining seven.

That differences could not be bridged was confirmed when Mr Hazare’s representatives came out of meeting with Mr Mukherjee and there was ‘disappointment’ with the government's ‘change in attitude’.

“There is a difference of day and night between yesterday and today. There has been a change of attitude. The kind of concern they were expressing yesterday was not visible today.

It is totally retrograde,” Kiran Bedi said.

The issues on which the differences remained included a single law providing for Lokayuktas in states, bringing the prime minister, higher judiciary and conduct of MPs in Parliament in the ambit of Lokpal, coverage of all civil servants, definition of Lokpal and selection process of Lokpal.

Accusing the government of involving them only for the sake of meetings, Ms Bedi said they have gone back to the drafting stage.

“We are back to the position where we were two days when no meetings have taken place. The agreement on procedure which appeared reached yesterday has been withdrawn by them,” Mr Kejriwal said.

Expressing disappointment with the meeting, Mr Bhushan said that the discussions will have to be started “once again virtually from scratch”.

“Unfortunately, we are back to square one. While yesterday there seem to be some progress, today after the meetings of CCPA, Congress Core Group and all party meeting, we seem to be back to square one,” he said.

The meeting on Wednesday night was the fourth meeting Team Anna was having with government negotiators that started from an informal deliberation between them and law minister Salman Khurshid on Tuesday.

At the all-party meeting, there was unanimity that the supremacy of Parliament and Constitution should be upheld but divergent views were aired on the fate of official Lokpal Bill.

A resolution passed at the all-party meeting said “this meeting of all parties in Parliament requests Shri Anna Hazare to end his fast.

“The meeting was also of the view that due consideration should be given to the Jan Lokpal Bill so that the Final Draft of the Lokpal Bill provides for a strong and effective Lokpal which is supported by a broad national consensus.”

The meeting started with the remarks of the prime minister who gave an overview of the situation and the developments that have taken place in the recent past, including the discussions that Mr Mukherjee had with the Hazare team on Tuesday.

Mr Singh conveyed the demands of the civil society that government should withdraw the Lokpal Bill in Parliament and introduce in its place Jan Lokpal Bill with some changes in four days, discuss that and pass it in the Monsoon Session without referring to the Standing Committee.

The civil society also said that if a written commitment can be given by the government on its demand, Mr Hazare can be persuaded to end his fast.

Mr Mukherjee briefed the meeting on the negotiations he had held with Team Anna.

Others to speak at the meeting were leader of opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, BSP leader SC Mishra, JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav, Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyay, CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury and CPI’s D Raja.

Parties, including the BJP, Left, AGP and RLD, demanded withdrawal of the government Bill saying it was weak but made it clear Parliament was supreme and there can be no short-circuiting of procedures like proper and due examination of any legislation in the Standing Committee.

Contending that an ‘abnormal situation’ had arisen due to Mr Hazare’s fast, Ms Swaraj said her party had two points—strong Lokpal which will cover the prime minister with riders and wanted the selection committee not to be ‘dominated by government people’.

She said the government bill was ‘weak’ and should be withdrawn.

Mr Yechury described the situation as close to "anarchy" and favoured redrafting of the Lokpal Bill after withdrawing the official version. He said the supremacy of Constitution should be preserved.

Lalu Prasad said outsiders should not dictate and that the government’s Lokpal Bill should not be withdrawn.

Mr Ahamed, leader of UPA ally IUML, said the government should not surrender to the civil society.


Inflation would come down to 6% by year-end: PM

“I am not an astrologer but analysts have said that by the end of this year, inflation will come down to 6%,” prime minister Manmohan Singh told reporters on Wednesday

New Delhi: Seeking to allay concerns over price rise, prime minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday expressed confidence that inflation would come down to 6% by the year end, reports PTI.

“I am not an astrologer but analysts have said that by the end of this year, inflation will come down to 6%,” Mr Singh told reporters here during Iftar hosted by him.

He was responding to a question whether inflation would come down and whether it was possible in view of the upcoming festival season.

Headline inflation in July moderated to an eight-month low of 9.22%, from 9.44% in June, but items of mass consumption, including cereals and vegetables, and manufactured products continue to remain dearer.

Food inflation also slipped to 9.03% for the week ended 6th August, from 9.90% in the previous week.

“Food inflation at the level of 9% is not acceptable. I do hope the measures taken to remove supply constraints in some of the agricultural commodities and good monsoon will help to have further moderating influence on the prices of food and other essential commodities,” finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had said.

The government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have taken many measures to control the inflation. RBI has increased its key policy rate 11 times since March 2010 to curb spending and tame the rate of price rise.

The RBI had projected inflation to average 9% for the first six months of 2011-12 before moderating to around 7% by March-end.

Addressing the nation on the Independence Day, Mr Singh had said that persisting high inflation is major challenges before the Indian economy.

“We are continuously monitoring the situation (on inflation) to find out what new steps can be taken to arrest rising prices. Finding a solution to this problem will be our top-most priority in the coming months,” Mr Singh had said.


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