India's Parliament passes anti-corruption bill

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NEW DELHI (AP) - India's Parliament approved a landmark anti-graft bill on Wednesday that empowers an independent ombudsman to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption by politicians and civil servants.

The "Lokpal," or watchdog, bill was passed by the lower house of Parliament after the government agreed to several amendments suggested by opposition lawmakers. The bill cleared the upper house on Tuesday after fierce debate.

The bill was spurred by anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare, who ended a nine-day hunger strike after its approval Wednesday.

The bill cleared Parliament with the ruling Congress party and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party joining hands, a rare case in which the bitter political rivals worked together.

The bill had been on hold since 2011, when it was approved by the lower house, but not the upper house. In the interim, several amendments were added, making it necessary for both houses to approve it again.

It will become law after being signed by the president, which is considered a formality.

The legislation says the country's top investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, must act on all cases referred to it by the ombudsman.

The ombudsman will have the authority to probe complaints of corruption against the prime minister, current and former members of Parliament, civil servants and employees of corporations and commissions funded by the government.

With investigations into corruption scandals often dragging on for decades in India, the bill stipulates that an initial probe into a complaint must be completed within 60 days, and the entire investigation within six months.

The Congress party was eager to have the bill passed by Parliament after a debacle in recent state elections, including the capital. With national elections due to be held in early 2014, the party was hoping to silence criticism of the government's delays in getting the legislation through Parliament.

In recent months, the government has been hit by a slew of corruption scandals, adding to public anger over its inability to push through much-needed economic reforms to revive a slowing economy.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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