India Approves New Anti-Corruption Agency

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Dec. 18 – India’s upper house of Parliament passed a measure Tuesday that will create a new independent anti-corruption agency with the broad authority to investigate senior politicians and other high-level allegations of corruption.

The Lokayuktas Bill (Lokpal Bill) has been stalled in the upper house for more than two years since social activist Anna Hazare first mobilized massive protests during his 2011 fast to encourage the more aggressive elimination of governmental corruption.

The earliest version of such an anti-corruption bill, however, was introduced more than 40 years ago in 1968, but it and several subsequent versions were never successfully approved by parliament.

Last week, Hazare again drew nationwide attention to the Lokpal Bill by fasting in his village in Maharashtra state.

Parliament’s approval of the measure comes amidst the ruling Indian National Congress Party’s severe defeat in four major state elections at the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and anti-corruption Common Man Party in Delhi.

The year-old Common Man Party (Aam Aadmi), led by anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal, has recently taken the Indian political scene by storm when it claimed 28 out of 70 legislative seats in the Delhi elections.

Many, including Kejriwal, were critical of the amended draft of the bill that was passed Tuesday, calling it a “Jokepal,” and remarking “the Lokpal Bill, in its current form, won’t even send a mouse to jail, forget a politician.”

Under the bill, an anti-corruption authority known as the Lokpal will be created with its three members appointed jointly by the Indian Prime Minister, opposition leader, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Kejriwal’s most severe criticism of the bill surrounds the Central Bureau of Investigation remaining under control of the government rather than the Lokpal.

The Lokpal will have the authority to direct the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s federal police agency, to investigate corruption allegations against government officials and politicians.

A state-level version of the Lokpal will also be created under the bill, known as the Lokayukta, within a year.

The governing Congress Party has been plagued in recent years by severe, repeated allegations of corruption and a number of scandals including one involving Prime Minister Singh.

The Lokpal Bill’s more than two year delay in Parliament was primarily due to concern among senior politicians about granting broad powers to an agency with the authority to investigate their activities.

After passing the upper house, the bill will progress to the lower house later this week, where it is also expected to pass by an overwhelming majority.

Uncharacteristically, the debate prior to Tuesday’s vote was very organized and civil, with the opposition leader in the upper house, Arun Jaitley, characterizing it as an effort to “restore the credibility of the political system.”

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