NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s Parliament was unable to pass an anti-corruption bill that had been cleared by the powerful lower house earlier this week, leaving the controversial legislation in limbo.
The upper house debated the bill for more than 13 hours Thursday before adjourning at midnight without clearing it, leaving potential passage of the government’s “Lokpal,” or watchdog, bill indefinitely delayed.
The lower house passed the anti-graft bill Tuesday after hours of fierce debate with several amendments suggested by opposition lawmakers. The bill becomes a law after both houses of Parliament pass it and send it to the president for her signature.
Parliament will now reconvene early next year, though the date is unclear. It must reconvene by March to pass the budget for the next year.
Like the lower house, the upper house, or Rajya Sabha, also saw impassioned, often angry debate, with opposition parties calling the bill weak and ineffective. The government’s own allies also had issues with a section of the proposed legislation that allowed the central government to create an anti-corruption ombudsman for the states, who they said should be free to enact their own anti-corruption legislation.
Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a member of the ruling Congress party, accused the opposition of not making any constructive suggestions regarding the law, but “opposing for the sake of opposing.”
The legislative showdown was the culmination of months of charged political debate and public protests that brought tens of thousands of middle-class Indians fed up with rampant corruption into the streets and put a scandal-plagued government on the defensive.
Hoping to defuse activist Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade, the government initiated debate Tuesday on a bill to create an anti-graft watchdog. But that failed to satisfy Hazare, who began a three-day hunger strike in Mumbai on Tuesday demanding the proposed ombudsman be made more powerful.
Hazare ended his fast Wednesday, a day earlier than planned, citing poor health, but he has vowed to keep fighting to ensure that Parliament passes his stringent version of the legislation.
He said his supporters would travel across the country to campaign against the political parties that did not support his proposals.
Hazare’s main complaint with the anti-graft bill before Parliament is that the proposed corruption ombudsman would not have authority over the country’s top investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation. He says the ombudsman position would be too weak without that authority.
The legislation covers senior politicians and officials. The prime minister’s office is under its purview, but with restrictions. But it gives the ombudsman no powers to conduct independent investigations into complaints of corruption.