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India Considers Anti-Corruption Bill Amid Calls for Tougher Law

  • Anjana Pasricha

Anti-corruption activists burn symbolic copies of the Lokpal Bill (anti-corruption bill) during a protest to denounce the proposal in its current form in Mumbai on August 4, 2011.

Anti-corruption activists burn symbolic copies of the Lokpal Bill (anti-corruption bill) during a protest to denounce the proposal in its current form in Mumbai on August 4, 2011.

The Indian government has introduced an anti-corruption bill in parliament to tackle graft following a raft of corruption scandals in the country. But civil society activists are criticizing the draft legislation and calling for a new nationwide campaign to press for a tougher law.

As the Congress-led government introduced the Lokpal or anti-corruption Bill in the lower house of parliament on Thursday, activists burnt copies of the draft legislation amid cheers and slogans.

Activist criticism

The activists, who have been campaigning for a strong anti-graft law, say the draft legislation is too weak to address what they call rampant corruption in the country.

Social worker Anna Hazare, whose hunger strike in April gave momentum to an anti corruption movement in the country, has warned of a new showdown with the government. He says he will start a hunger strike from August 16 to press for a tougher law. He has called people all over the country to join him.

Hazare says if people lose this opportunity to remove corruption from public life, they will not get another chance.

The activists led by Hazare participated in the drafting of the Bill, but complain their views were not taken into account in the final version.

Government rejects demands

The government has rejected their demands that the ombudsman should have powers to investigate graft charges against the prime minister, the judiciary and lawmakers. However, federal ministers and senior bureaucrats, who are shielded under present laws, will be liable to investigation.

But civil society campaigners want officials of all ranks to be brought under the authority of the new law. They say otherwise it will not root out the graft which affects the common man.

Arvind Kejriwal has been at the forefront of the anti corruption campaign. Kejriwal says the bill will not help in investigating corruption such as the disappearance of medicine from hospitals, missing food rations meant for poor people or corruption by village councils.

It is not just civil society campaigners who are disappointed with the government’s effort to tackle corruption through the new law.

Objections in parliament

In parliament, the leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, Sushma Swaraj, raised objections to the Bill because the prime minister is excluded from its ambit.

Swaraj asked how can any individual be treated as a “holy cow?” She says this is against the spirit of the constitution which treats all citizens as equals.

Corruption has become a top concern in India following allegations that billions of dollars were siphoned from the organization of Commonwealth Games staged last year, in an auction of telecommunications spectrum, and in illegal mining. Corruption charges have been leveled against officials from both the ruling Congress led alliance and the opposition BJP.

The government says the introduction of the Lokpal Bill in parliament shows that it is serious about tackling corruption and ensuring accountability in public life.

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