Thursday, August 18, 2011

India corruption: Anna Hazare accepts release offer

The BBC's Mark Dummett is at the scene of the proposed protest - meanwhile thousands of supporters remain outside the prison

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Detained Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has agreed to a police offer which will permit him to go on hunger strike in a park for 15 days, his aide says.
A close aide of Mr Hazare said he would leave prison on Friday to begin the hunger strike.
He had previously vowed to remain in custody in Delhi unless he was permitted to resume the protest, which triggered his arrest on Tuesday.
His arrest sparked widespread rallies.
Earlier reports had suggested he would leave prison on Thursday. The police had previously insisted the 74-year-old could fast for only three days.
The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder, in Delhi, said the decision to wait until Friday has apparently been made because the site of his protest, the Ram Lila Maidan park in Delhi, is not yet ready for the strike, which is expected to attract a large number of people.
The police offer which will permit Anna Hazare to go on a hunger strike in a park for 15 days is being seen by observers as a major climbdown by the government.
But what happens next? There are unverified reports that the government is trying hard to reach a compromise with Mr Hazare, who insists that his version of the anti-corruption bill has to be placed before parliament.
Both sides need to reach common ground and save face. It is unclear how the government proposes to get Mr Hazare's bill into parliament, when its own bill - incorporating many of Mr Hazare's suggestions - is already being examined by a standing committee.
How quickly Mr Hazare calls off his fast - and saves the government further embarrassment - will depend on how fast a deal is worked out between the two sides.
Correspondents say the news of the deal was greeted with cheers by hundreds of his supporters who have been maintaining a vigil outside the police station in Delhi where he is being held.
Judge 'impeached' In a separate development, India's upper house of parliament voted to impeach a high court judge on corruption charges.
Soumitra Sen was found guilty by the Rajya Sabha of "misappropriating" large sums of public money while a judge at the Calcutta High Court.
If parliament's lower house also votes to impeach him, Mr Sen would be the first sitting judge to be removed from office in India.
Corruption scandals in India over the past year has sparked widespread public anger and calls for reform.
Mr Hazare's protest is aimed against what he regards as a watered-down anti-corruption bill introduced by the Indian government.
He was arrested hours after he was due to begin his fast on Tuesday at Delhi's JP Park, along with at least 1,200 of his supporters.
The Congress-led government said the protesters had been detained because they had not accepted the police's restrictions on the number of fasting days and participants.
The move sparked widespread protests across the country, including Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Calcutta and elsewhere.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has accused Mr Hazare of trying to circumvent democracy by demanding the overhaul of an anti-corruption bill.
Mr Singh told parliament Mr Hazare's hunger strike was "totally misconceived", but his speech was constantly interrupted by opposition MPs, many of whom jeered and shouted "shame".

Dispute over Citizens' Ombudsman bill

  • Following a hunger strike by Anna Hazare in April, the government agreed to draft the Jan Lokpal (Citizens' Ombudsman) bill. The final bill incorporates 34 of the 40 principles set out by Mr Hazare, but he and other activists have rejected it
  • Mr Hazare says the ombudsman should have the power to investigate the prime minister and senior judges. The government refuses to include them, saying their authority will be eroded
  • Mr Hazare wants the ombudsman to be able to investigate MPs accused of taking bribes to vote or ask questions in parliament. The government says such probes should be carried out by MPs
The spontaneous outbreak of public support is a matter of deep concern for Mr Singh's administration, says our correspondent.
String of scandals Mr Hazare has called the proposed anti-corruption legislation a "cruel joke" and has described the fight against corruption as the "second war of independence".
In April, he called off a hunger strike after four days when the government said he could help draft legislation to create a special ombudsman, or lokpal, an independent body with the power to investigate politicians and civil servants suspected of corruption.
The final version of the bill was presented in early August, but Mr Hazare and other activists rejected it because the prime minister and senior judges would be exempt from scrutiny.
India has recently been hit by a string of high-profile corruption scandals which critics say is evidence of a pervasive culture of corruption in Mr Singh's administration.
A recent survey said corruption in Asia's third largest economy had cost billions of dollars and threatened to derail growth.
Delhi map
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