India Corruption "License to Loot"

New Delhi 8-12-96 by Hema Shukla(UVI NET)

India's politicians are trying to convince the country's voters what many have believed all along -- that elected officials are not public servants.

In a bid to protect themselves from zealous anti-corruption investigators, India's members of Parliament and state legislators are arguing that they cannot be considered public servants and should be immune from prosecution under a 1949 anti-corruption act.

In a rare moment of political consensus, legislators of all political hues -- from right-wing Hindu nationalists to Marxist Leninists -- have banded together to lobby on the issue.

The 1949 Prevention of Corruption Act empowers police to investigate and criminally prosecute public servants for graft during their tenure in office.

Elected officials have traditionally been include in this act.

India has no other law under which elected officials can be prosecuted for crimes committed while they were in office.

Many Indians, who view politicians as lazy, arrogant, and a drain on public funds, say politicians are trying to use technicalities to escape liability for their behavior.

"They are just a bunch of thieves saying give us a license to loot," attorney Sriprakash Kandpal said. "They want an escape route."

Lawmakers are also trying to amend the anti-corruption act to excuse past crimes, which would let dozens of senior politicians now facing criminal corruption charges off the hook.

Reports in The Times of India say the proposed amendment is supported by strange bedfellows: Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, of the center- left United Front coalition, and former prime ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee, of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.

India's political elite have been rocked by a series of scandals over the last year.

Former Indian prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao stands charged in three cases of corruption, bribery and forgery. A number of other high profile politicians from all major parties are also facing investigations for dubious deals made while they were in public office.