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Parliament to debate Lokpal even as Anna stays adamant
Uproar in House postpones discussion; Anna shoots fresh letter to Prime Minister
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, August 26
Even as efforts were on by the government to persuade 74-year-old Anna Hazare to break his 11-day fast, the debate on various versions of the Lokpal Bill, including the Jan Lokpal Bill drafted by the Gandhian’s associates, will now take place tomorrow with an opening statement by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

There will be no voting on the discussion. However, it is not clear if the debate will satisfy the social activist though the government is hoping it will play a positive role in persuading him to call off his fast. In an effort to break the ongoing impasse with Team Anna, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had yesterday suggested that Parliament could debate the Jan Lokpal Bill along with other drafts and these records be sent to the Standing Committee for its consideration.

Earlier, spelling out his stand in a letter to the Prime Minister, Anna said he will only break his fast if there is unanimity in Parliament on three outstanding issues -constitution of Lokayuktas in states, lower level bureaucracy be covered under the Lokpal Bill and provision of harsh punishment for officials violating the citizen’s charter.

“My soul tells me if there is a consensus on these three sticking points, then I will call off my fast,” the letter said.

Union Science and Technology Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who has been deputed by the government to speak to Anna, was in touch with the activist through the day and efforts were on till late tonight to end the logjam at the earliest. The government has underlined that it can only place these issues before the House for a debate but it cannot give any assurance on behalf of other political parties.

The Lok Sabha was all set to hold the debate on Lokpal Bills today after it received a verbal assurance from the Gandhian yesterday that he would break his fast once the discussions in Parliament got underway.

However, its plan went awry after Anna Hazare went back on his promise and instead wrote a letter to the Prime Minister today laying down fresh conditions. At the same time, the BJP also did a U-turn and came out in open support for Team Anna's Jan Lokpal Bill. It disrupted proceedings and did not allow the debate today and demanded that the discussion be taken up under Rule 184 which entails a vote. Today's debate, which was initiated by Sandeep Dikshit, was to take place under Rule 193 which does not require a vote.

With these fresh developments, the government found itself fighting on two fronts. On one hand, it spent the day trying to sort out its differences with the BJP in Parliament and, on the other, it was making strenuous efforts to end the stand-off with Team Anna. The Prime Minister and Pranab Mukherjee were locked in a series of meeting through out the day with Deshmukh, Law Minister Salman Khursheed and Lok Sabha MP Sandeep Dikshit, who have been negotiating with Team Anna.

The differences with the BJP were resolved after Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar convened an all-party meeting where there were few takers for the BJP motion which committed the House to accepting Team Anna's three outstanding demands. BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said if Rule 184 was not acceptable, the debate should be based on a government statement. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who rushed to consult Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee after this meeting, later announced that the debate would take place tomorrow with an opening by Mukherjee who will spell out the government's position on this issue. The BJP accepted saying no vote was required if the government was prepared to clarify its stand. Though there will be no vote, the debate could end with the adoption of a substantive resolution under Rule 342, provided there is a consensus in the House.





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