Sonia Gandhi vows to fight for anti-corruption bill

Sonia Gandhi
Image caption Ms Gandhi is India's most powerful politician

India's ruling Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi has vowed to ensure MPs pass a new anti-corruption bill.

The Lokpal bill, which envisages setting up an independent ombudsman with the power to prosecute politicians and civil servants, is likely to be tabled in parliament on Thursday.

However, campaigner Anna Hazare is not satisfied with the bill and says he will fast again in protest next week.

A string of major corruption scandals have hit the government's reputation.

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.

Correspondents say the stage is set for a fresh confrontation between the government and Mr Hazare and the opposition over the contents of the new bill.

The current session of parliament has been extended by three days to allow time for the bill.

'Ready for fight'

Amid reports that the government would have a tough time pushing through the new bill in the face of opposition from Mr Hazare and many political parties, Mrs Gandhi told reporters on Wednesday that she was "always ready for a fight".

"I will fight for Lokpal... I cannot see any reason to be defeatist," she said.

The Press Trust of India news agency quoted her telling a meeting of party MPs in Delhi that "deliberate and malicious misinformation" was being spread that her party was not serious about tackling corruption.

She told the meeting that three major bills to tackle corruption were ready - they are aimed at protecting whistle blowers, make judges more accountable and checking money laundering.

Media reports say the Lokpal bill, which was approved by the cabinet on Tuesday evening, proposes keeping India's top investigation agency, CBI, out of the purview of the ombudsman.

Instead, the government-controlled CBI will take on cases assigned to it by the ombudsman, and these investigations will be carried out within 180 days.

Mr Hazare's aide Prashant Bhushan said the government was not giving the CBI up because its "intentions are unholy".

"Corruption always involves the government and therefore having a government-controlled agency will result in conflict of interest," he was quoted as saying by The Indian Express newspaper.

The government has also kept outside the ambit of the ombudsman a "citizen's charter" for the timely investigation of public grievances against the government, another demand of Mr Hazare.

Instead, it is expected to table a separate citizen's charter bill in parliament which makes it mandatory for every government ministry and department to act within 30 days on public complaints about services.

"The government is bringing many bills instead of one. Let the government go its way, we will go our way," Mr Hazare said, while announcing that he would go on a three-day hunger strike beginning on 27 December in protest.

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