Congress dithers on Lokpal bill as pressure builds
As the scandal-tainted Congress coalition in India struggles to deal with graft allegations, the focus has shifted to an anti-corruption bill that may well be the bane of future governments.
The Lokpal bill, which aims to bring the prime minister’s office and lawmakers under the purview of an anti-corruption ombudsman, has been introduced, rehashed and abandoned several times since 1968, the year it was first proposed.
Under growing pressure from the opposition and a hunger strike by 72-year-old activist Anna Hazare, the government may find it difficult to ignore the bill further.
But a cautious Congress still seems inclined towards a watered down version of the Lokpal bill.
In its current form, the bill suggests the Lokpal be a recommending authority without punitive powers. The Lokpal, a bench comprised of retired Supreme Court and High Court judges, will not have the authority to take action on its own.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met civil activists such as Hazare to discuss their demands for a Lokpal bill that would effectively rein in corruption.
Hazare, who is now part of a people’s movement called ‘India Against Corruption’, has threatened to go on an indefinite hunger strike if the government does not make changes to the draft bill and ensure its swift passage.
Activists want stronger provisions such as a year’s deadline for investigations followed by a speedy trial and confiscation of wealth.
For now, Singh has set up a committee to study the bill but it remains to be seen if a toothless Lokpal would remain just a corruption watchdog — without actually having the power to curb it.