Rajya Sabha fails to vote on Lokpal bill

NEW DELHI Fri Dec 30, 2011 1:58am IST

A view of the parliament building is seen on the opening day of the monsoon session in New Delhi August 1, 2011. REUTERS/B Mathur/Files

A view of the parliament building is seen on the opening day of the monsoon session in New Delhi August 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/B Mathur/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Rajya Sabha broke up for recess on Thursday without voting on a bill to create a Lokpal before a deadline set by activist Anna Hazare, who has led a campaign for the measure using hunger strikes.

The bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, was taken up for a discussion and vote in the upper house on Thursday. But after a marathon debate that stretched until midnight, the vote failed to take place for lack of time.

The Congress-led government had extended the winter session of parliament until December 29 to meet a deadline set by Hazare to pass the anti-graft legislation before the end of the year.

"The session could not have been extended," said Pawan K. Bansal, parliamentary affairs minister. "It will come up in the next session."

The next session of parliament is likely to start in March after the completion of five state elections.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, accused the government of shying away from the vote as it did not have the majority needed to pass it.

The ruling Congress party depends on fickle allies and independents for its majority. With a key ally objecting to certain sections of the bill and pressing for amendments, passing the bill appeared unlikely.

"This was a choreographed act. The government didn't have the majority," said Arun Jaitley, the BJP leader, after the upper house session was adjourned. "It is both a political and moral defeat for the government. It should resign."

Multi-billion dollar corruption scandals have added to middle class frustration with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government's record on corruption.

A bill to create a ombudsman with powers to root out corrupt officials in India's sprawling bureaucracy was first proposed in 1968 but it languished until Hazare's relentless campaign forced the issue on the political establishment.

Thousands took to the streets in the summer, forcing Singh to bow to demands to create a powerful ombudsman's post.

Renewed protests by Hazare to lobby for greater investigative powers for the ombudsman flopped this week, and Hazare cut short a hunger strike amid low support and mounting fears about his health.

(Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty; Editing by Peter Graff)

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