Indian media: 'Setback' to anti-corruption watchdog

An activist of Communist Party of India (Marxist and Leninist) listens to a leader during a protest against the government's version of an anti-corruption bill in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011 Image copyright AP
Image caption India's fight against corruption is one of the major issues in the upcoming general elections

Media feel the government's plan to form a new anti-corruption watchdog has suffered a "setback" with the resignation of two key officials.

In December, the parliament approved a new anti-corruption bill (known as Lokpal Bill) under which an independent ombudsman would have powers to prosecute politicians and civil servants.

The government recently formed a search panel to select the chief and other members of the ombudsman.

But the panel's head, former chief justice KT Thomas, resigned on Monday from his post, saying he did not have independence to select the right person for the job.

Last week, eminent jurist Fali Nariman had also rejected the government's offer to join the panel.

Mr Thomas and Mr Nariman said they were asked to select the chief of the ombudsman from a list of candidates prepared by a government department, which undermines the fairness of the process.

"The current selection process would overlook the most competent, the most independent and the most courageous," Mr Nariman said in a letter to the government.

Papers seem to agree with the two law experts.

The senior jurists were simply asked to "endorse the government's choice of Lokpal", says The Business Standard.

Media also feel the resignations will harm the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) chances of winning the upcoming general elections.

These resignations "cast a shadow over the ruling UPA government's hurried attempts to have the Lokpal in office before the country goes to polls", says The Economic Times.

The CNN-IBN website says "Mr Thomas's quitting is a big blow to the Congress after noted advocate Fali Nariman, too, refused to join the (search) committee".

Underground economy

Staying with national news, an official inquiry panel has found that "problems in the cable and not the battery compartment, as was being feared earlier", caused a fire accident on the navy's Sindhuratna submarine, The Times of India reports.

The accident killed two sailors and injured seven others last week.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has made it clear that "freedom of speech could not be restricted during elections and people should hear all shades of opinion", The Hindu reports.

The court's statement comes in the wake of a petition filed by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, who was seeking to restrain political parties and candidates from "making hate speeches" and trying "to pit one community against the other".

Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the country's central bank, has extended the deadline of exchanging currency notes printed before 2005 to 1 January 2015, The Economic Times reports.

The bank had earlier set a deadline of July 2014. Many feel the measure will force people to declare their "unaccounted money" because the notes printed before 2005 will become unusable after 1 January, 2015.

According to some estimates, India's underground economy accounts for 50% of its gross domestic product (GDP).

'Queen of Hills'

Elsewhere, the good old trams are all set to make a comeback in Delhi with the government giving its go-ahead to the service, The Hindu reports.

The trams, which were first introduced in Delhi on 6 March 1908 by British Viceroy Lord Hardinge, "came to a grinding halt" in the 1960s due to the increasing number of vehicles in the city.

And finally, Shimla is "all set to walk down memory lane" with officials planning events to mark the 150th anniversary of the Himalayan city being declared as the summer capital of the British government.

The northern city, which still has 91 British-era heritage buildings, functioned as the summer capital of the British government between 1864 and 1939, the First Post website says.

In order to recreate the past, the state government and other cultural agencies have lined up a programme named "Shimla Celebrates: 150 years of Summer Capital" between 21 and 27 March.

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