Hazare runs into civil society protest

Aug 21, 2011

The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information has rejected Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal bill and said it had sent its version of the proposed anti-graft law to the parliamentary standing committee that is examining the Centre’s draft.

At a media interaction today, NCPRI members Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander, who are also part of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), emphasised the importance of the standing committee which, they said, has in the past strengthened bills initially regarded as “feeble”.

They also said setting deadlines for passing bills challenged the underpinnings of democracy, whose essence was “holding wide-ranging consultations and discussions, allowing for dissent and evolving a consensus”.

As Hazare and his colleagues rubbished the Centre’s invite for suggestions on its Lokpal bill through media ads, Aruna said they had despatched their draft today and were waiting for a call from the parliamentary panel.

She also said the NCPRI met most of the Opposition parties, including the BJP and the Left, and were responded to “favourably”.

Aruna, a right to information campaigner for years, underlined the role of the committee, saying several amendments had been incorporated into the RTI law.

Asked what she thought of Hazare’s fast, she said: “It is justified, democratic and constitutional. He has the right to protest and dissent. But nobody can claim it as an absolute right and deny the right of dissent to others.”

NCPRI member and RTI activist Shekhar Singh criticised Hazare’s colleague and lawyer Shanti Bhushan for suggesting that the government was free to make “minor” changes in the Jan Lokpal bill with Team Anna’s “permission” and ensure its passage in the ongoing monsoon session.

“This is very dangerous. Mobilising 50,000 or a lakh of people on the streets does not give anyone the right to appropriate Parliament’s functioning. Tomorrow, by the same logic, they might say we want to take over the courts, the security forces and demand a role in amending the Constitution,” Singh said, adding that lawyer Prashant Bhushan, also a Hazare adherent, was an “old associate” of his.

Aruna explained why they believed Parliament and legislative processes were sacrosanct even in the face of “people’s power”.

“The Lokpal issue was flagged in the public domain because of public pressure and nobody disputes this fact,” she said. “But those who make laws, craft their phraseology, vet and pass them are empowered to do so by the Constitution. But there exist structures of the state that can be accessed by civilians and worked upon by them. Although people struggling on the streets often make governments cognisant of their issues, we should learn to use government structures with maturity.”

Aruna, who was an IAS officer before quitting to work on grass-roots movements, added: “I was a collector once. But today I can’t be engaged in street struggles and simultaneously demand that I should be allowed to exercise the powers of a collector. I am happy to sit on the street with people and let the collector do his job.”

Mander, also a former bureaucrat, said this was “not the first movement” to have drawn people to the streets.

“Labour struggles have led to the passage of pro-labour laws, women’s groups pressured government to radically alter the law on rape and domestic violence and Dalit groups have fought for Dalit laws. People have the right to demand laws but it should be done through a system.”

The NAC members were, however, quick to clarify that they did not come as the government’s representatives and ran down the official Lokpal bill as “weak, inadequate and dangerous in places”.

They also tried to counter the perception that the NAC was a super law-making mechanism and claimed it was “part of the pre-legislative process”.