New Lokpal Bill draft reduces differences

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New Delhi:  After initial differences that threatened to mar proceedings, the first meeting today of the Joint Drafting Committee of the Jan Lokpal Bill, comprising representatives from the government and the civil society, seemed to have passed off smoothly. (Read: What is Jan Lokpal Bill?)

Both parties on the panel emerged to hold a joint briefing about working together following a 90-minute-long meeting which saw the committee members discuss the shape of the Bill.

The outcome of the meeting clearly gave the government a reason to smile as it managed to negotiate with the activists on several sticking points in the draft bill.

First and foremost was the issue of videography of the meeting. The government though successfully turned it into just audio recordings.

Secondly, the demand for using a draft as the base for negotiations was also dropped. This was a major clincher as using the draft as the base document would have made the Government's attempts to force amendments appear as resistance to the Lokpal Bill or tackling corruption.

Finally, the committee will not follow a 'Yes-No' method to proposals.

"The meeting was fruitful, everyone made valuable contribution. We all want the Bill to be introduced in the Monsoon Session," Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal told reporters after the meeting.

Mr Sibal also said that today's meeting was audio-recorded and not videographed as demanded by the civil society activists.

The 10-member joint committee, which met at North Block, discussed the procedures to be followed for drafting of the anti-graft bill.

Even as the points of contention were far lesser, the core demands of the citizens' representatives in their draft remained unaltered.

The activists on the panel claim that theirs is an evolving document and the Government seems to be happy with it.

Firstly, the draft includes the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the selection process.

Secondly, it excludes ministers, MPs and judges from the list of public servants who face suspension if charges against them are proved. 

Mr Sibal said the latest draft presented by the civil society representatives had "significant" proposals. Both sides presented their perspective on the proposed legislation, he added. Mr Sibal also said the committee would discuss the draft provided by the activists along with the draft cleared by the Standing Committee which would be circulated.

The meeting was chaired by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Other panel members who attended the meeting include Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily, Water Resources Minister Salman Khursheed, former Union Law Minister Shanti Bhushan (co-chairman), social activist Anna Hazare, eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde and RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal.

The panel will next meet on May 2 to decide on the modality of public consultations on the legislation, Mr Sibal said.

Anna Hazare, who led the campaign that forced the government to agree to the constitution of the joint committee, said the meeting went off well. "It is because of you we achieved this success," he told reporters. (Read: Who is Anna Hazare?)

Today's meeting took place in the shadow of a CD controversy allegedly involving panel co-chairman Shanti Bhushan.


LOKPAL CO-CHAIR IN CD CONTROVERSY

Shanti Bhushan, picked by civil society representatives to co-chair a new committee in charge of drafting a law on corruption, is now the epicenter of a new controversy.

A CD - sent anonymously to media houses - purportedly has a conversation between politicians Amar Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Shanti Bhushan.   

The voice of a man purported to be Shanti Bhushan suggests that a judge can be bribed (NDTV is withholding the name of the judge since we cannot verify the contents of the CD).   

Mr Bhushan has in the past served as Law Minister. A voice, purportedly his, says his son, Prashant, can do this for four crores. Prashant Bhushan is also on the Lokpal Drafting Committee, along with activists Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare.

Prashant Bhushan said that while the voice on the CD may be his father's, it needs to be tested at a forensic lab - and that different conversations seems to have been spliced together to create a false narrative. He said that his father has never met Amar Singh.

Prashant Bhushan believes this is "a concerted campaign" to smear the representatives of civil society that will work alongside five ministers to draft the Lokpal Bill. He described the CD as "fabricated" and said he has lodged a police case to determine who has created and circulated it. (Watch: CD is fabricated, says Prashant Bhushan)
 
On Friday evening, media offices in Delhi received CDs delivered anonymously - these CDs are of a phone conversation purportedly between Mr Bhushan, Samajwadi Party Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, and Amar Singh, who was a senior Samajwadi Party leader himself till a high-volume falling out with Mr Yadav a few months ago.

NDTV cannot authenticate whether the voices on the CD are indeed of these three men.  

The conversation on the CD suggests that Shanti Bhushan and Amar Singh are together when Mr Singh calls Mr Yadav. A man, purportedly Mr Singh, hands the phone to a man - purportedly Mr Bhushan - who states a judge handling a case that Mr Singh and Mr Yadav refer to can be bribed. The voice that is purportedly Mr Bhushan's suggests that his son, Prashant, can help with this.

SHANTI BHUSHAN SEEKS PROBE, SAYS CD 'FABRICATED'

Mr Shanti Bhushan has approached Delhi Police seeking investigation into circulation of the CD. After he filed a complaint, Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat told PTI that investigators have filed a case under section 469 of Indian Penal Code (forgery for the purpose of harming reputation).

In a statement, Shanti Bhushan said the circulation of the CD to sections of media was shocking. "It is clearly fabricated, since I have never spoken to Amar Singh. To go to such lengths shows the desperation of these people to discredit the members of the committee and derail the bill," he said. (Read)

AMAR SINGH: WHO IS 'THE PAPA' OF THIS CD?

Amar Singh told reporters that "I don't remember anything. I don't wish to talk about any tape. I've spoken to Mulayam Singh thousands of times, spoken to dozens of lawyers several times." (Watch)

He went on to say, "I believe this tape may be doctored. But let the authorities establish its veracity. And if it is indeed Shanti Bhushan's voice, then let his son Prashant Bhushan answer. He's waged a personal battle against me in the Supreme Court over taped conversations. What's good for Peter should be good for Paul. I've been shouting from the rooftops that the tapes purportedly with my voice that were leaked earlier were doctored. Prashant Bhushan didn't believe me, always attacked me. "

He expressed a different sentiment for Shanti Bhushan describing him as "A good man. I'm grateful to him for having given me legal advice when I was expelled from the Samajwadi Party." Shanti Bhushan has, however, said that he has "never spoken to Amar Singh."

Mr Singh said he wants to know who the "papa of this CD is" and that the police must figure out who leaked it.

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