The much-hyped “Lokpal Bill” would allow citizens to approach a newly-created watchdog with complaints about officials, including federal ministers and senior bureaucrats who are shielded under India’s current laws.
The ombudsman (similar to a Congressman) will be picked from the highest levels of the judiciary and supported by 10 other officials who would be from the judiciary or people of “impeccable integrity”.
The final version of the bill has been strongly criticized by civil society activists, who were allowed to participate in the drafting process but complained that their views were marginalized.
In particular, they attacked the decision to remove sitting prime ministers and the higher judiciary from the ombudsman’s purview.
The conduct of MPs inside parliament is also exempt.
As soon as the bill was introduced, the leader of the opposition in parliament, Sushma Swaraj, denounced the exclusions.
“Our categoric position is that the prime minister should also be within the ambit” of the ombudsman, Swaraj said.
India has a dismal record of bringing corrupt senior public officials to justice.
In six decades only one senior politician, Rao Shiv Bahadur Singh, has been convicted of graft and served a jail term — for taking a bribe in 1949.
Current laws require the government’s approval before any sitting bureaucrat or minister can be prosecuted.
Civil society efforts to strengthen the bill were spearheaded by a veteran Indian activist, Anna Hazare, who won concessions from the government in April with a 98-hour hunger strike that gained widespread national support.
As the bill was being introduced in parliament, he symbolically burned a copy in the western city of Pune and said he would start a new fast on August 16.
“By introducing this weak bill the government has clearly shown that they have no intention to fight corruption,” he said.
Hunger strikes, a traditional Indian protest, have become a focus of resentment over the corruption that plagues all levels of life in India, from massive government contracts to small daily bribes.
Maybe the US should adopt some sort of “Lokpal Bill”!!!