India’s Supreme Court Sets Corruption Bill Deadline

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Feb. 6 – India’s Supreme Court has put pressure on the government to commit to making a decision within four months on whether a public official can be prosecuted for corruption. If a consensus has not been reached by then, prosecution will be considered sanctioned by India’s highest court, the BBC reported.

The announcement comes after a long and highly publicized corruption scandal involving former Telecommunications Minister A. Raja. The Janata Party Leader Subramanian Swamy sought prosecution of Raja, who was one of 14 people charged over allegations of mis-selling telecom licenses, which auditors have said cost the country an estimated US$40 billion.

The scandal is one of many which has plagued the Indian government in recent years and will be viewed as a setback in the fight against corruption.

Although a previous Delhi High Court ruling had rejected the prime minister’s request for guidance on such prosecutions, the Supreme Court ruled that filing a complaint under the Prevention of Corruption Act was a constitutional right that required a response within a set timeframe.

Justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguly ruled in favor of Swamy’s petition.

Swamy, who had complained of an “inordinate delay” of more than 16 months in the decision to prosecute Raja, said the ruling was a slap in the face for the government.

Balbir Punj, a senior leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said it welcomed the ruling.

“It is a judgment which will have far reaching consequences, in the citizens’ fight against corruption and in empowering citizens,” Punj said.

The prime minister’s office had argued it was advised that it had to wait for evidence to be collected before it could make a decision to prosecute.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used his new Twitter account to say the judges had “completely vindicated the Prime Minister whilst appreciating the onerous duties of his office.”

India has been debating a strong anti-corruption bill after a series of nationwide protests against the longstanding issue. The bill, which envisages setting up an independent Lokpal [ombudsman] with the power to prosecute politicians and civil servants, was passed by Parliament’s lower house in December but stalled in the upper house.

The bill will now have to be taken up again in the next session of Parliament.

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