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Hazare on fast on graft, farm issues; refuses to meet minister

(Eds: Adds details, quotes of minister Girish Mahajan) Ralegan Siddhi (Maha), Jan 30 (PTI) Social activist Anna Hazare Wednesday launched a fresh round of hunger strike in support of his demand for appointment of anti-corruption watchdogs at the Centre and in Maharashtra and resolution of farm issues as he declined to meet a state minister for talks. Hazare in the morning offered prayers at the Padmavati Temple in his native village Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar district of western Maharashtra. The octogenarian activist, a veteran of many a fast in the past, then went in a procession, accompanied by students, youths and farmers, to the Yadavbaba Temple and sat near it to begin his indefinite hunger strike. Hazare is protesting "non-fulfilment" of assurances by the Centre and the Maharashtra government on the appointment of Lokpal and passage of the Lokayukta Act in the state. The Army man-turned-activist has also been demanding appointment of Lokayuktas in states where such statutory anti-corruption watchdogs do not exist. The anti-corruption crusader told PTI that he welcomed the Maharashtra Cabinet's decision to bring the office of state chief minister under the ambit of Lokayukta. "However, the strike will continue till the government fulfils promises they made before coming to power about passage of Lokayukta Act, appointment of Lokpal (at the Centre) and to tackle farmers' issues," he said. As a routine procedure, doctors conducted a basic health check-up of Hazare, a close aide of the activist said. Later in the day, Hazare refused to meet government envoy and minister Girish Mahajan for negotiation over the issued raised by him. Hazare made it clear he does not wish to discuss the Lokayukta issue with Mahajan anymore, said a close aide of the veteran anti-corruption crusader. "I am not going to discontinue my fast until the government takes concrete decision on appointment of Lokayukta in Maharashtra," Hazare told reporters. Speaking to reporters in Mumbai, Mahajan said, "I am confident Anna will listen to our side. We have communicated to him about the measures we have taken for implementation of Lokayukta as well as offering better price to farmers (for their produce)." "I am hopeful of meeting Anna in a couple of days and finding some amicable solution to the issued raised by him," said Mahajan, a confidant of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. Hazare had written a letter to Fadnavis Monday, saying he would launch the agitation in his village from Wednesday. Apart from the appointment of Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta in states, he has been demanding implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations on ways to address agrarian distress besides some electoral reforms. "It has been five years since the Lokpal Act was passed. Yet, the Narendra Modi government has not appointed Lokpal...Lokayukta Act has not been passed in Maharashtra for four years," Hazare observed in his letter dated January 28. The activist said Fadnavis had mediated when he had launched the agitation at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi in March last year. Hazare said he had withdrawn that agitation after the Centre assured in writing it would fulfil his demands. "Nine months have passed, yet the demands have not been fulfilled," he had said in the letter to the chief minister. The Fadnavis Cabinet had on Tuesday decided to bring the office of chief minister under the purview of Lokayukta. Hazare had welcomed the government's decision to set in motion the process to appoint Lokayukta. "I thank them on behalf of the people for taking the decision towards appointment of Lokayukta through a constitutional process. But, that does not mean I will not stage hunger strike. The agitation will go on until the Act is in place," he had said. The Lokayukta is a statutory body that is empowered to probe complaints of abuse of position and corruption against public servants. PTI COR/ND GK DV RSY AQSAQS