India

India MPs concern over Lokpal anti-corruption bill

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

India's opposition parties have expressed their reservations over a new anti-corruption bill.

The Lokpal bill envisages setting up an independent ombudsman with the power to prosecute politicians and civil servants. It will be debated in parliament next week.

Campaigner Anna Hazare has said the bill was "weak and useless" 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.

'Disappointing'

Opposition parties have raised their concerns over a proposal to have a quota for members of minority groups in the powerful anti-corruption body.

The leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, Sushma Swaraj, said the Lokpal bill was "disappointing".

"The move for a religious-based reservation in the Lokpal institution is patently unconstitutional," she said.

The bill, which was tabled in parliament on Thursday, proposes keeping India's top investigation agency, CBI, out of the purview of the ombudsman.

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

In other words, the nine-member Lokpal committee - which will comprise the ombudsman - will not have its own investigative agency, a major demand of anti-corruption activists like Mr Hazare and many opposition parties, reports say.

"The government is deliberately keeping the CBI out of the Lokpal to protect corrupt ministers. If the CBI is included under the Lokpal then many ministers have to go to jail," Mr Hazare was quoted as saying by The Indian Express newspaper.

There are also concerns over the proposal that the prime minister should come within the ambit of the ombudsman with some conditions, relating to matters of external affairs and national security.

"This is against the spirit of the Indian constitution. Hence, this bill should not be presented in parliament," said Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party said.

Mr Hazare has said he will launch an indefinite hunger strike from 27 December and launch countrywide protests if a strong Lokpal bill is not passed during the current parliament session.

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

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