Lokpal anti-corruption bill: India cabinet clears changes

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

India's cabinet has approved some key changes to the controversial anti-corruption Lokpal bill suggested by a committee of MPs from the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament.

The house will discuss the bill when the parliament meets later this month.

The bill, which empowers an independent ombudsman to prosecute politicians and civil servants, was passed by the Lok Sabha, the lower house, in 2011.

But the upper house had been adjourned amid chaos without a vote.

Leading anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, who has been campaigning for a tough Lokpal bill, has called the amended bill "a farce".

Mr Hazare's main complaint is that the bill proposes keeping India's top investigation agency, CBI, out of the purview of the ombudsman.

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

The cabinet has accepted 14 of the 16 amendments suggested by the Rajya Sabha committee, the authorities said late Thursday.

Some of the key amendments accepted by the cabinet include:

  • Lokpal, and not the government, will sanction prosecution of public servants
  • Central government to have no role in appointment of Lokayuktas - state-level ombudsman
  • Lokpal to clear appointment of CBI prosecution lawyers

However, the amended bill has been criticised by Mr Hazare who wants the the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission kept out of the government control.

His 12-day fast in August 2011 received widespread support, with tens of thousands of people attending protests across the country.

Mr Hazare and his supporters say that tougher measures are required in the bill if it is to prove effective at reducing the level of corruption.

The Indian government has been rocked by recent corruption scandals including an alleged telecoms bribery scam that may have cost the country $39bn (£23bn), suspected financial malpractice linked to the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games and accusation that homes for war widows were diverted to civil servants.

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