India

India begins crucial week for anti-corruption bill

Anti-corruption protest in India
Image caption India has recently been hit by a string of high-profile corruption scandals

A key week has begun for India's controversial anti-corruption bill, with the cabinet expected to approve it and then table it, reports say.

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

Final decisions still need to be made on who comes within the bill's ambit.

Key activist Anna Hazare has threatened to launch protests and go on a hunger strike if the bill is not passed.

Mr Hazare's 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.

'Worthless'

Media reports say ministers were putting the finishing touches on the amended bill on Monday.

It will then probably be brought before cabinet on Tuesday. The government hopes one house will clear the bill and the other begin discussion on it by Wednesday, with the intention of both houses passing the bill on Thursday, when the winter session is due to close.

Image caption Anna Hazare has promised more protests if the bill does not pass

However, the bill has been dogged by delays before and there are reports the government will approve an extension of parliament - possibly into next week, if needed.

Mr Hazare appeared unimpressed with the latest version of the bill, calling it "worthless and good for nothing".

He has vowed to start a new hunger strike from 27 December.

There are differences among political parties over who should come under the ambit of the proposed anti-corruption ombudsman, particularly over lower-level bureaucracy.

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

The judiciary and conduct of MPs in parliament will not be included.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and some other parties have also demanded that the investigative wing of the federal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) be included.

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

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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