We asked for more time, says govt to Anna Hazare

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New Delhi:  In Delhi, veteran activist and Gandhian Anna Hazare is continuing with his hunger fast - he launched it on Tuesday, and says he will not eat or drink till the government proves its commitment to fighting corruption with a powerful new law - the Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen's Ombudsman Bill). (Read: What is the Jan Lokpal Bill, why it's important)

"My blood pressure is ok," said the 72-year-old.  "A little weakness is there...and I think there will be some weight loss." (Watch)

Mr Hazare's call to action - along with a group called India Against Corruption, he is asking people to hold rallies, or fast for as long as they can - is resonating across hundreds of cities, a somber reflection of a country's disenchantment with the government over corruption.  "Let people fill the streets like they did after India won the World Cup," said one young demonstrator. (Watch: Anna's crusaders - Students, housewives)

What Mr Hazare and other prominent activists want is for the government to ensure that those appointed to investigate corruption charges are free of political influence.  They want an institution called the Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta in each state.  On the group's official website, indiaagainstcorrpution.org, they state that these offices, "Like Supreme Court and Election Commission... will be completely independent of the governments. No minister or bureaucrat will be able to influence their investigations." (Read: Why Hazare, Others oppose Lokpal Bill 2010)

Mr Hazare says from how these officials would be selected, to their ability to accept complaints directly from the public, and then lodge police cases, the Lokpal and Lokayukta must be empowered much more than what the government has offered.

To ensure this, Mr Hazare wants civil society to be represented on the committee that drafts the Lokpal Bill.  The government has said that while it values Mr Hazare's commitment and suggestions, legislation is the business of Parliament.  The Prime Minister's Office tried unsuccessfully on Monday night to persuade Mr Hazare to cancel his fast.  On Tuesday, as he launched his strike, spin-off demonstrations pulled in big crowds in cities like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Bangalore. (See Pictures | Comment: What should India do to fight corruption?

On Wednesday, Kapil Sibal, a minister who is part of a "sub-group of ministers dealing with the Lokpal bill, said that Mr Hazare had been reassured that his request would be given the government's full attention.  "We are open to all suggestions...but we were asked to commit that in principle, a joint committee will function.  We were told that this must be done before April 5," he said. "We said we are a subgroup and we are not empowered to commit to this...so we need more time...and we will present this to a Group of Ministers (GoM) who will take a decision.  So we requested that some time be given to the government to deal with these issues.  Civil society should have confidence in the government.  We are deeply concerned with the issue of corruption." (Watch)

Mr Hazare doesn't accept these explanations.  He said on Wednesday morning that "If the government were serious about fighting corruption, why are there so many delays in getting to work on it?"


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