India Anti-Corruption Bill Passes First Test

Posted December 27th, 2011 at 3:20 pm (UTC-5)
Leave a comment

Indian lawmakers are pushing forward with a landmark anti-corruption bill, despite fierce criticism from the opposition.

Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament passed the measure to create an oversight agency to investigate and prosecute politicians suspected of graft.

The vote followed rowdy debate in parliament and a staunch defense of the legislation from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Critics say the legislation does not go far enough to weed out India's rampant corruption, and opposition leader Sushma Swaraj charged the proposed corruption watchdog would be ineffective because it would be under the control of the government. But Mr. Singh cast aside those concerns. He said the bill “lives up to the promise” lawmakers have made to the Indian people.

Still, the legislation faces additional hurdles. The Congress Party-led government failed to get a two-thirds majority it needed in the lower house to make the bill a constitutional amendment. And the legislation must still gain approval in the upper house of parliament.

Public frustration over a series of corruption scandals has been growing.

In Mumbai Tuesday, thousands of protesters gathered to cheer on veteran Indian activist Anna Hazare as he embarked on a fresh public hunger strike to protest the legislation.

Hazare calls the legislation “toothless” and says it will not do enough to halt rampant corruption. The 74-year-old activist insists that India's federal police, the Central Bureau of Investigation, be placed under jurisdiction of the watchdog agency.

Hazare, who claims inspiration from Mohandas Gandhi, held a similar 12-day fast in August to protest an earlier draft of the legislation. That strike stoked public anger against what is seen as widespread corruption in Indian society, and brought millions of Indians onto the streets nationwide.

Rishi, an organizer of the latest fast, says his group is preparing for tens of thousands of protesters to show solidarity with Hazare in Mumbai.

“The preparations started two days ago. The carpeting area in the front can accommodate 15,000 people who will come here to support it.”

Hazare's critics say his methods go outside the bounds of India's democratic system, saying he is forcing his political views on parliament.

“It is the job of the parliament to make the legislation. We had several rounds of discussions with Shri Anna Hazare and his team,” says India's Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. “We know their viewpoints, but it is for the parliament to decide what would be the final shape of the legislation.”