KATHMANDU (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's new government will be judged by its people on how it tackles rampant corruption in the country and whether it gives a new anti-graft watchdog the teeth to investigate top officials, Transparency International (TI) said on Wednesday.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi stormed to victory in the country's election last week, promising to boost economic growth and stamp out graft after the previous government led by the Congress party was rocked by a spate of high-profile scandals.
Launching its first-ever study on corruption in South Asia, TI said a law allowing for the appointment of a Lokpal, or ombudsman, which will have the power to investigate all top government servants and departments, has still not been implemented.
"We think the Modi government should give priority in fighting corruption. We believe the Indian people will look for implementation of the (Lokpal) Act," Srirak Plipat, TI's Asia Pacific director, told a news conference.
"This will be the first test of the Modi government on whether it keeps the promises made during the election," he said, adding that the organisation would be monitoring how Modi tackles graft in his first few months in power.
India is ranked 94th in a list of 177 countries on Transparency International's 2013 Corruption Perception Index, worse than China, South Africa and Brazil.
Graft scandals have dogged the previous government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which was in power for a decade.
There was a huge scam over the sale of the 2G Spectrum licenses, which Time Magazine listed as number 2 on its "Top Abuses of Power", behind the Watergate scandal. Some estimate losses to be almost $40 billion - equivalent to India's defense budget.
New Delhi's botched hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games also led to dozens of corruption cases, and more recently the then government was hit by a furore over the dubious allocation of coal deposits now known as "Coalgate".
A Lowy Institute poll of Indians in May last year found that 92 percent thought corruption had increased over the past five years, and even more believed that reducing corruption should be a top priority for their government.
Plipat said the Lokpal Act needed concrete action, adding that an appointment of the ombudsman and framing of the rules within the act should be realised within 100 days of the newly elected government taking office. Modi is expected to be sworn in as the new prime minister on May 26.
Other bills dealing with graft also needed to be passed in India's parliament, he said, including a law to regulate public procurement to ensure transparency and fair and equal treatment of bidders for big ticket government projects.
The country's new whistleblower protection law should also be amended, said Plipat, to include the private sector as well as those in the public sector.
During the election campaign, Modi's opponents accused him of doing little to stamp out corruption, including stalling the appointment of a similar type of ombudsman in Gujarat for over a decade, where he was the chief minister.
However, Modi's supporters say that the appointment was stalled due to wrangling between the Gujarat's Governor Kamla Beniwal who wanted to have a say in who heads the ombudsman.
"There is a room for improvement of his record of fighting corruption in the past. Now we want to focus on future," said Plipat.
"If Modi is serious about fighting corruption then he should act on these recommendations. But he will need to empower people and civil society to work with him and other actors to make this Indian dream of having a transparent and accountable society a reality."
(Writing by Nita Bhalla)