|File photo of Indian Parliament|
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Indian Parliament passes historic anti-corruption bill
NEW DELHI (AA) - India’s Parliament on Wednesday passed a landmark anti-corruption law after decades of delay and political stalling over the creation of a national watchdog to probe allegations of corruption against public officials and elected lawmakers, including the Prime Minister.
The Lokpal (Protector of People) Bill passed in Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, a day after it smoothly sailed through Rajya Sabha, the upper house. It will now be submitted to Indian President Pranab Mukherjee for his approval.
The bill proposes the formation of an independent ombudsman at the national level with parallel anti-graft agencies in all states with powers to prosecute legislators and bureaucrats suspected of corruption.
In a rare incident of political consensus, the lower house passed the bill in less than an hour in the ongoing winter session of Indian parliament which ends on December 20.
Congress vice-President and Gandhi family scion Rahul Gandhi, a lawmaker in the lower house, said it is the responsibility of politicians to fight the menace of corruption.
“It is our responsibility to complete our unfinished fight against corruption,” said Gandhi, the Congress party’s potential prime ministerial candidate for May 2014 elections.
The ruling Congress party’s willingness to claim the historic anti-corruption law is being seen as an attempt to gain lost ground after being defeated in four state elections in early December.
Sushma Swaraj, BJP head and opposition leader in the lower house, criticized Congress for taking credit for pushing the anti-graft law.
“People are lining up to take credit, but there is an old man who keeps fasting for the bill and appeals to our collective conscience. And the people of this country deserve credit,” Swaraj said, referring to anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare.
76-year old Hazare broke his fast on the ninth day as the law was cleared by the parliament. The ageing Gandhian activist was on an indefinite fast for the bill's passage in his native Ralegan Siddhi village in the western state of Maharashtra.
The protest venue in the village turned jubilant as Hazare’s supporters celebrated.
“Other than the Samajwadi Party, I salute all MPs (Members of Parliament) who helped pass the Bill,” Hazare said.
The regional Samajwadi Party was the only political party to oppose the bill.
The idea of the Lokpal bill was first introduced in 1968 in the lower house of parliament but was repeatedly stalled by politicians under one pretext or another. There have been a total of seven attempts in Indian parliament to pass the law.
Under Hazare's leadership in 2011, there was a massive public movement across the country to pass Jan Lokpal, or the people’s ombudsman, to rein in on corrupt practices by all authorities, including the judiciary, bureaucracy, elected lawmakers and prime minister’s office.Hazare’s movement attracted the public at large as he took a number of indefinite fasts to push the government for stronger anti-corruption legislation.