Indian media welcome 'historic' anti-corruption bill

Indian social activist, Anna Hazare celebrates breaking his fast with a glass of fruit juice on the ninth day as Parliament passed the Lokpal Act, in Ralegan Siddhi in western Maharashtra state on December 18, 2013.
Image caption Anna Hazare has thanked Indian lawmakers for approving the Lokpal bill

Media in India are welcoming the passage of a new anti-corruption bill while recalling activist Anna Hazare's two-year struggle that led to the "historic" law being approved.

On Tuesday, the lower house of parliament passed the Lokpal bill, a main demand of campaigners led by Mr Hazare.

The president needs to sign the bill before it becomes a law that will empower an independent ombudsman to prosecute politicians and civil servants.

Most newspapers praise the ruling Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) for showing "rare unity" in the parliament but give main credit to Mr Hazare.

"Praise is due to Congress, BJP as well as Anna Hazare for facilitating legislation that's an important step in the fight against corruption in public life," The Times of India says.

However, the paper cautions that just passing the law is not enough as "India's legislative history has seen many laws grand in ambition, but their impact on society has been poor".

The Hindustan Times also gives credit to Mr Hazare and adds that public anger forced political parties to join hands to pass the bill ahead of general elections next year.

"Civil society pressure, public disappointment with political corruption and the impact the bill could have in 2014, all these galvanised parliamentarians to come together despite initial differences to cobble together the bill," the paper says.

Hindi daily Dainik Jagran and The Tribune say the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - whose leader Arvind Kejriwal was earlier Mr Hazare's top aide - is also a factor why the Congress and the BJP have come together to pass the bill.

"The rise of AAP reflects public angst against the prevalent state of affairs and has forced political decisions unthinkable before," The Tribune says.

After parting ways with Mr Hazare, Mr Kejriwal launched AAP with anti-corruption as the main plank and won 28 of the 70 seats in the recently concluded Delhi assembly polls.

Travel chaos

In more news on Delhi election results, more than 400,000 people have responded to a referendum by AAP that seeks public opinion on whether the party should form a government in Delhi with support from the Congress, The Hindu reports.

The AAP needs support either from the Congress or the BJP because no party has won at least 36 seats needed to form a government.

Meanwhile, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has said that her party is passing through "trying and challenging" times after recent defeats in assembly elections, the Firstpost website reports.

In some business news, the central bank's decision to not hike policy interest rates despite high inflation figures has surprised papers.

"Consumer price inflation has risen to 11% and the market was expecting a hike in rates, but in its monetary policy announcement, the Reserve Bank of India has left interest rates unchanged," The Indian Express says.

The paper adds that the RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan has been "hawkish on inflation, but it was unlikely that his approach would pull down inflation so quickly - that is, in a period of four months - since monetary policy usually works with a lag of two to eight quarters".

And finally, papers criticise the authorities' "lack of preparedness" in dealing with travel chaos caused by heavy winter fog in northern India.

"While officials blamed sudden advent of fog for the chaos, it's difficult to understand the lack of preparedness," The Times of India says.

It adds that "winter fog conditions in northern India are an annual phenomenon and shouldn't catch airlines and airport authorities unawares. Yet, every year commuters have to put up with flight delays during winter, leading to substantial losses to the economy".

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