India activist Anna Hazare says Lokpal bill must pass

Anna Hazare
Image caption Mr Hazare has threatened to go on hunger strike if the bill is not passed

Indian activist Anna Hazare has said the current session of parliament must be extended to pass a new anti-corruption bill.

The Lokpal bill envisages setting up an independent ombudsman, who would have the power to investigate and prosecute politicians and civil servants.

Political parties have failed to reach a consensus on the bill.

Mr Hazare has threatened to go on hunger strike if it is not passed this session.

His 12-day anti-corruption fast in August became the focus of a national campaign and put pressure on the government to act on the issue.

'Momentous legislation'

Mr Hazare said he hoped MPs would reach a consensus on the bill in parliament.

"If there is no time for passing the bill, then extend [the parliament session]". It is important for the country. Earlier also, you have occasions when the session was extended," he said.

Media reports suggest that a special session of parliament could be convened to allow more time to bring about agreement on the Lokpal bill. The winter session is scheduled to end on 22 December.

Leaders of 35 parties had joined Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence in Delhi to discuss the Lokpal bill on Wednesday evening.

"Give us some reasonable time to consider views expressed [at the meeting]. I am not saying it is not possible to pass it in this session itself but it might also spill over," Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was quoted as saying by The Indian Express newspaper.

Mr Singh started the meeting by saying the "momentous legislation" should be "passed on the basis of consensus among all parties as far as possible and that this should not be subjected to party politics in any way".

Image caption A recent survey said corruption in India had cost billions of dollars

He added: "The government is committed to implement in letter and spirit a good and effective Lokpal bill that would have a quick and positive impact in further curbing the cancer of corruption without any adverse effects on the efficiency of our system of public administration."

Media reports said that the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and some other parties demanded that the investigative wing of the federal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) be brought under the ombudsman.

The CBI will take on cases assigned to it by the ombudsman.

The Hindustan Times newspaper quoted one politician as questioning the need for any Lokpal bill.

"We are opposed to a superpower centre which will not be accountable to anyone. How can there be an institution above the constitution?" Anant Gete of Shiv Sena was quoted as saying.

Reports said that many parties advised the government to go slow on the bill.

The government appears now to have conceded that the prime minister should come under the ambit of the ombudsman with some conditions, relating to matters of external affairs and national security.

The judiciary and conduct of MPs in parliament have been kept out of the Lokpal's ambit.

India has recently been hit by a string of high-profile corruption scandals, badly damaging the government's reputation.

Among them are an alleged multi-billion dollar telecoms scam, claims of financial malpractice in connection with the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games and allegations that houses intended for war widows ended up in the hands of civil servants.

A recent survey said corruption in India had cost billions of dollars and threatened to derail growth.

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