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India's civil society rallies for new law to tackle graft - Reuters

By Nita Bhalla Fri Dec 3, 2010 3:07pm IST NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - A group of India's most prominent and .....




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Post India's civil society rallies for new law to tackle graft - Reuters


By Nita Bhalla
Fri Dec 3, 2010 3:07pm IST

NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - A group of India's most prominent and popular civil society leaders have joined forces to push for new legislation to tackle graft after a series of major corruption scandals involving senior government officials rocked the country.


The India Against Corruption movement has brought together spiritual and religious leaders, activists, judges, national athletes, writers and socialites to support a new draft bill, which they say will plug loopholes in the country's anti-corruption system.


"For years, we have individually tried to fight corruption in our own different ways, but due to the serious corruption cases which have been discovered, we have decided to unify and create a movement," said Kiran Bedi, a renowned social activist and former police officer.


In recent weeks, four major scandals have dominated the headlines, including a telecoms licence scandal which may have cost India a staggering $39 billion in lost revenue -- equivalent to the defence budget. The state auditor said in a report last month that the telecoms ministry gave out lucrative licences and radio spectrum in 2007/08 at below-market prices.


The scandal caused the government to order Telecoms Minister Andimuthu Raja to resign and sent parliament into a three-week deadlock in which bills were prevented from being passed as opposition parties kept up demands for a full investigation into alleged government corruption.


A separate bribes-for-loans banking scandal, which implicates state and private lenders is also being investigated, in addition to a housing scam in the western state of Maharashtra and allegations of corruption in the run-up to the Commonwealth games.


NEW LAW
The India Against Corruption movement say current legislation for investigation, prosecution and conviction is poor, saying that the two main bodies -- the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) -- charged with dealing with corruption cases are "ineffective".


The CVC, they say, is independent but has no power to investigate cases and can only advise but not enforce, while the CBI has powers to investigate but it is not independent because it relies on government for permission to investigate and prosecute.


"No vigilance or anti-corruption body in our country is independent and final. Either an agency is recommendatory or it is vulnerable to political influences or both," said a letter sent from the movement to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday.


"This has led to a situation where the high and mighty never get punished for corruption."


The anti-graft campaigners say there needs to be a total overhaul of current legislation and are proposing a draft bill called the "Lokpal Bill" which will create an independent investigating and prosecuting agency, funded by the government and led by independent professionals.
Where there is a conviction for corruption, the bill would also enable the government to recover all funds lost -- an option which does not exist currently.


SOCIAL MOVEMENT
Social movements in which civil society groups campaign to gather support through demonstrations, protests and meetings and in some cases, hunger strikes have a long history in India. Often involving hundreds of thousands people and sometimes millions, such movements have been effective in pushing government to make key reforms in legislation.


Social movements have contributed greatly to getting legislation such as the Right to Information Act as well as the Domestic Violence Act passed in India and activists say the leaders of the new India Against Corruption movement have the support and potential to mobilise hundreds of millions of people.


Members of the movement include spiritual leaders such as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Swami Ramdev, activists like Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal as well as the Archbishop of Delhi, Vincent Concessao, and even India's gold-medallist marathon runner Sunita Godara.


"It is high time to do this and mobilise public opinion on this terrible menace of corruption," said Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. "People are hungry for transformation and India can change."


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