Hunger striker rallies opposition to controversial anti-graft Bill

Wed, Dec 28, 2011, 00:00

THE FEDERAL government in Delhi was yesterday besieged by the opposition in parliament and hunger-striking activist Anna Hazare outside as it tried to push through a controversial anti-corruption Bill Indians have been awaiting for 42 years.

Various drafts of the Bill have been pending under successive administrations, but were not taken seriously until Mr Hazare took up the issue earlier this year.

Convening for a special three-day session dedicated to the new legislation proposing the creation of an independent Lokpal or ombudsman to investigate corruption among senior politicians and civil servants, parliament witnessed fiery day-long clashes between government and opposition MPs.

The Bill – which prime minister Manmohan Singh’s administration claims it would try and pass in parliament by tomorrow – has been criticised as weak and ineffectual by critics, particularly 74-year-old Mr Hazare.

He began his three-day public fast in the western port city of Mumbai yesterday, demanding that the legislation be recast.

Thousands of Mr Hazare’s supporters responded to his call to court arrest across the country in support of his demands. He finds a large following among tens of millions of Indians who are fed up with proliferating corruption in all spheres of public life.

Mr Hazare has called the government’s anti-graft legislation an attempt to fool the country without actually taking tough action to end rampant corruption that impinges on everyone.

Indisposed and suffering from fever Mr Hazare declared that he was ready to die in his quest for a robust and uncompromising Lokpal Bill.

His principal complaint is that the proposed corruption ombudsman Bill would not have authority over the country’s top investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), rendering it weak and ineffectual.

“The Bill has been specially drafted to protect corrupt officialdom,” Mr Hazare’s top associate, Arvind Kejriwal, declared in Mumbai.

There is no attempt by the government at controlling graft and the CBI is merely a governmental tool to perpetuate its power, he added.

The Bill is also at variance with Mr Hazare’s demands, as it places limited jurisdiction over the prime minister.

A similar protest by Mr Hazare in New Delhi in August galvanised support from millions of people.

They took to the streets in numerous cities in a spontaneous outpouring of anger and frustration at the endemic corruption that blights their daily existence.

A beleaguered prime minister meanwhile pleaded with parliament to “rise to the occasion and look beyond partisan politics” to pass this law.