India making progress in fight against corruption

Discussions continue in New Delhi about the creation of a new anti-graft or ‘Lokpal’ bill, writes the chair of Labour Friends of India, Barry Gardiner MP.

Barry Gardiner MP (Labour, Brent North) is the chair of Labour Friends of India

Discussions continue today between United Progressive Alliance government ministers and civil society representatives about the creation of a new anti-graft or ‘Lokpal’ bill in New Delhi. The two sides look set to find a compromise this week on a bill which has stirred tension between the government and anti-corruption campaigners throughout 2011.

Last week a 20,000 strong protest in support of a hunger strike by yoga guru Baba Ramdev ended after police clashed with protestors, firing tear gas canisters into the crowd. Ramdev and his followers had been protesting against corruption and for the return of black money banked abroad.

Ramdev himself was hospitalised following an eight day hunger strike. His protest has garnered support and sympathy across India. The government agreed to create a new Lokpal Bill following a week-long hunger strike in April by another anti-corruption campaigner, the Ghandian Anna Hazare.

While there are no official figures for the scale of India’s black money problem, unofficial estimates put the figure at around $1.4 trillion (£0.86 trillion). The majority is held in Switzerland, where according to the Swiss Bankers Association, India has more black money than the whole of the rest of the world combined.

In the 2010 Corruption Perception, India was ranked 87th out of 178 countries for its level of corruption, down one place since last year. India was given a score of 3.3 on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt).

While corruption is not new in India, according to a report by KPMG:

“High-level corruption and scams are now threatening to derail the country’s credibility and its economic boom.”

Corruption is also frequently cited in the UK by those critical of the DFID India aid programme, as a reason for stopping the £295.1 million programme which targets health, education, rural poverty and trade development in the country, which is home to a third of the world’s poor.

The UPA have responded to the corruption threat. In 2005 they passed the Right to Information act, allowing Indian citizens to request information from government bodies, who must respond within 30 days. This has been put to good use by anti-graft campaigners, uncovering numerous corruption cases. However a fresh wave of high-profile scandals in the last year, including the 2G Spectrum scam which led to the arrest of the cabinet minister Andimuthu Raja, have again ratcheted up tensions.

The government responded with the unprecedented step of setting up a Draft Committee for the Lokpal bill which has equal numbers of politicians and civil society campaigners. However last week it emerged that the committee has presented two competing versions of the bill, leading the civil society members on the Draft Committee to call the governments’ version of the bill a ‘jokepal’ bill.

They insist that the bill must apply to the prime minister, the cabinet and the judiciary, a move which ministers are resisting. Other differences between the two sides have centred on the make-up of the Lokpal appointment committee, with the civil society representatives pushing for a “broad-based committee consisting of non-political and independent people”.

Today is the last day meetings have been scheduled for the Draft Committee before the bill is presented to the cabinet for approval. Both sides have today expressed their hopes that they can reach a compromise that will prove to be the beginning of the end of corruption in India.

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