NEW DELHI — India’s beleaguered government introduced a long awaited anti-graft bill in parliament on Thursday, amid bitter opposition from both lawmakers inside the House and social activists outside.
The Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill 2011, which has been the subject of intense public debate and social protest in India since April, aims to create a watchdog Ombudsman office that will have powers to receive complaints of corruption against top politicians and bureaucrats in India.
Some opposition party members booed and shouted slogans demanding a set-aside for religious minorities in the anti-corruption ombudsman panel. Others warned the government that the watchdog law may undermine the powers of the government. Anti-corruption campaigners said the government’s bill does not give investigative powers to the ombudsman’s office.
“This is a mockery. Did we launch a mass agitation this year for such a weak bill?” asked Kiran Bedi, an activist. Fed up with the specter of a series of high-profile corruption scandals since October 2010, Indians mounted unprecedented pressure by protesting through street hunger strike and viral campaigns on Facebook, Twitter and other microblogging sites this year.
The 73-year-old leader of the movement, Anna Hazare, announced he will begin a three-day fast Tuesday in the western city of Mumbai to call for more changes in the law. Hazare has fasted three times before, in April, August and earlier this month.
Some lawmakers opposed the bill, because they said the government should not bow to the pressure of anti-corruption crusaders and bring a law in haste.
India has been trying to bring in the contentious law to check graft for more than 43 years now. Several versions of the bill have been introduced, but failed to pass 10 times.
A wider discussion on the bill will take place in the House from Dec. 27 to Dec 29.
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