Indian anti-corruption bill tabled in parliament

Anti-corruption protest in Jammu in February 2011 A recent survey said corruption in India cost billions of dollars

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A controversial bill to set up an anti-corruption watchdog has been tabled in the lower house of India's parliament.

The proposed ombudsman would have the power to investigate and prosecute politicians and civil servants.

Activists who helped draft the bill say it does not go far enough because the prime minister and senior judges would be spared prosecution while in office. They are urging MPs to vote against it.

India has recently been hit by a string of high-profile corruption scandals.

Politicians, civil servants and business leaders are accused of robbing the state of billions of dollars, badly damaging the government's reputation.

The BBC's Mark Dummett in Delhi says there is no guarantee that the bill will be passed - different governments have been trying to set up an anti-corruption watchdog since 1969 but on each occasion MPs have voted against it.

Scandal allegations

Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare, who went on hunger strike in April to be allowed to help draft the so-called Lokpal Bill, has called it a "cruel joke". He is threatening a hunger strike from 16 August.

Last Thursday, the government approved a draft of the law which allows citizens to approach the ombudsman with complaints against federal ministers and bureaucrats, who are protected under India's present anti-corruption laws.

But campaigners and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have criticised the government's decision to exempt the prime minister and senior judges from the proposed law.

Some of the recent corruption scandals to have rocked India include an alleged multi-billion dollar telecoms scam, claims of financial malpractice in connection with the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games and the allegations that houses intended for war widows ended up in the hands of civil servants.

Critics of the government say the recent allegations point to a pervasive culture of corruption in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's administration - adding to the difficulties of a politician once seen as India's most honest.

A recent survey said corruption in India cost billions of dollars and threatened to derail growth.

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