Bloomberg News

Indian Government Clashes With Activists Over Corruption Bill

June 22, 2011

June 22 (Bloomberg) -- India’s government failed to reach an agreement with social activists asked to help draft an anti- corruption bill, prolonging a standoff over graft that has dented the government’s reputation and business confidence.

After the ninth and final round of talks, the two sides couldn’t bridge differences on six issues surrounding the powers of a proposed agency, known as the Lokpal, to target corruption among politicians and bureaucrats. The two sides will now distribute separate drafts of the bill to political parties for feedback before India’s cabinet takes a decision.

“I am deeply disappointed by the model of Lokpal that the government has proposed,” Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer in the Supreme Court and one of the activists, said in televised comments in New Delhi yesterday. He urged the government to pass an “effective bill” in the next session of Parliament beginning Aug. 1.

Tougher laws to counter corruption have been pending before India’s Parliament for more than 40 years. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is under pressure to tackle corruption after high-profile alleged scams led to nationwide street protests. About 72 percent of business leaders said corruption allegations will slow economic growth, according to a poll published by the Economic Times last week.

The activists are pushing for the proposed body to have powers to investigate the prime minister, senior members of the judiciary, politicians’ conduct in parliament and all Indian bureaucrats.

‘Parallel Government’

Government ministers negotiating the bill argue such proposals would override rights enshrined in the constitution and Parliament’s sovereignty. The government and activists also disagree on how the agency’s members will be selected and funded.

Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal, one of five members of the cabinet on the Lokpal committee that began work in April, said the government wasn’t prepared to grant powers superseding the democratic framework established when the country gained independence from Britain in 1947.

“We don’t want to compromise the very delicate constitutional balance provided for in the constitution by our forefathers, they were far wiser than us,” Sibal told reporters yesterday evening. “We cannot have a parallel government.”

Singh, in the third of a five-year term, has been damaged after the jailing of a government minister and company executives linked to a 2008 sale of permits to run mobile-phone services, which the country’s auditor says may have cost the exchequer $31 billion.

The government agreed to draft a new anti-corruption bill after a septuagenarian social activist, Anna Hazare, staged a five-day hunger strike on the streets of Delhi in April modeling his protest on those of independence icon Mahatma Gandhi. Draft proposals for a corruption ombudsman, first introduced in Parliament in 1968, have never been passed because of a lack of political will.

--Editors: Mark Williams, Sam Nagarajan

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Macaskill in New Delhi at amacaskill@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net


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