Indian cabinet approves anti-corruption bill, readies for protests


Supporters of hunger-striking activist Anna Hazare grab pamphlets explaining the anti corruption bill "Jan Lokpal Bill" at a public rally in support of Hazare at his village in Ralegan Siddhi, some 240 kms east of Mumbai on August 22, 2011.



In hopes of ending months of protests and debates that have paralyzed his government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's cabinet approved a bill to create a powerful ombudsman to fight corruption late Tuesday -- but adversaries on all sides have already vowed to oppose the law.

Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, whose hunger strike initiated the drive for the bill this summer, said he will launch a three-day fast in protest of the government's draft beginning Dec. 27, according to India's DNA newspaper.  Hazare wants the ombudsman, or Lokpal, to include more specific provisions for how citizens' grievances will be addressed -- including time limits.

Similarly, the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left have both said that the government's draft is unacceptable, according to NDTV

The Hindustan Times offers a good summary of the bill's provisions here, saying.

Citizens will be able to file complaints of corruption against any central government employee to the proposed lokpal, which will have its own inquiry and prosecution wings, according to the draft bill finally cleared by the cabinet on Tuesday night.

The fresh bill allows the lokpal to oversee investigation of cases referred by it to by various probe agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The agency will, however, continue to be under the government’s administrative control.

The BJP's objections relate to the powers granted to the Lokpal over the CBI, a federal police force that has frequently been used by parties in power to settle scores against rival politicians, the news channel reports:

The BJP has demanded less government control over the administration of the CBI and is reportedly unhappy also about the structure of the committee to select the Lokpal that the government has reportedly proposed. It says the panel would be dominated by the government. The BJP is also opposed to the government's proposed panel for the selection of the CBI chief - the final draft reportedly says the PM, leader of Opposition and the Chief Justice of India would select the head of the CBI .

Suffice to say, Singh's problems with government paralysis aren't over.  But it looks as though his Congress party may be ready to turn the page on this one, as party President Sonia Gandhi has announced publicly that the government is "ready for a fight" -- implying that the time for debating the specific planks of the bill is over.

According to NDTV, the government plans to introduce the legislation in Parliament Thursday as a statutory bill, rather than a constitutional amendment.  That means that instead of a two-thirds majority, the Lokpal Bill will only need a simple majority to go through in both Houses -- which Singh's Congress should achieve if his coalition allies in the United Progressive Alliance stay aboard. 

It remains to be seen whether the minutae of the bill will be contentious enough to compel legislators to block its passage, as happened with Singh's attempt to raise the cap on FDI in retail recently.