NEW DELHI — India's parliament has passed a landmark anti-corruption bill, more than two years after a civil society movement demanded a tough law to fight graft. The government pushed through the legislation after suffering electoral defeats blamed partly on its failure to curb corruption.
The anti-corruption legislation, known as the Lokpal Bill, will create an independent ombudsman headed by a former judge to prosecute bureaucrats and politicians charged with graft. It was passed by the lower house on Wednesday, a day after the Upper House approved the measure.
The ruling Congress Party's massive losses in recent local elections and the strong showing by a new party born on an anti-corruption platform prompted the government to fast track the legislation this week.
The main opposition party, also wanting credit for the Lokpal Bill, supported the legislation, ensuring its easy passage through parliament.
Law Minister Kapil Sibal called its passage a “historic moment.”
“I think all of us stood together on this very important occasion to give a message to the people of India and to tell civil society that we are listening to your concerns, we are sensitive to your concerns,” said Sibal.
A nationwide civil society movement two years ago had demanded the implementation of tougher laws following the revelation of massive scams in awarding government contracts and licenses. The angry public demands prompted the government to draft a bill, but it failed to pass through parliament, and had been languishing since 2011.
That raised fears it would meet the fate of similar anti-corruption bills that had been introduced by successive governments since the 1960’s, but failed to make it through parliament.
But the Lokpal bill is now set to become law after being signed by the president.
Anti-corruption campaigner, Anna Hazare, who led the nationwide movement for the law, welcomed its passage and broke a fast he began nine days ago to demand its enactment.
Hazare thanked parliamentarians saying it was a good step for the nation. He says it is the first time since independence that the country has an effective law to deal with corruption.
In an effort to show that the Congress party-led coalition is serious about tackling corruption, senior Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi said the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government has more laws in the pipeline to tackle the problem.
“We need a comprehensive anti-corruption code in this country. The UPA has developed a powerful anti corruption framework consisting of eight new central laws to tackle corruption… I believe it is our responsibility to complete our unfinished work in our fight against corruption,” he said.
But the political party that was born from the anti-corruption movement denounced the measure as a “weak” law that would not be able to tackle graft effectively.
Manish Sisodia, a leader of the Aam Aadmi party, says local municipalities, police, government schools and hospitals, will not be covered by the Lokpal. He asks what will we do with such a Lokpal.
A new report by the Washington-based advocacy organization Global Financial Integrity says illicit cash outflows from India have been increasing over the years, to about $344 billion in the decade that ended in 2011. It says India was the fifth largest exporter of such cash after China, Russia, Mexico and Malaysia.