DELHI (AFP) - India's president said Sunday that corruption was "a cancer" affecting all aspects of life in the country, as the government prepares to pass contentious new anti-graft laws.
Corruption has become a key political issue in rapidly-developing India after a series of scandals that sparked widespread public anger over alleged financial malpractice among senior officials.
Pratibha Patil used her speech on the eve of Independence Day to admit that graft bedevilled the everyday lives of many Indians and she called for action to tackle the problem.
"Corruption is a cancer affecting our nation's political, economic, cultural and social life. It is necessary to eliminate it," she said in a speech broadcast on television and radio.
"There cannot be just one panacea or remedy to deal with it, but a system of transparency and accountability should be put in place at various levels, and then effectively enforced," she said.
The president holds little executive power in India, but her words come as politicians wrangle over an anti-graft bill that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is trying to push through parliament.
Critics say the much-hyped "Lokpal Bill" is weak and ineffectual, and complain that sitting prime ministers and senior judges would be exempt from scrutiny by a new ombudsman.
A series of corruption scandals have left Singh's Congress party-led government - which nominated Patil for the presidency - floundering for months, with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) working hard to use the issue to revive its own fortunes.
Allegations of high-level corruption have focused on preparations for last year's Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and on the government's sale of lucrative second-generation (2G) mobile phone licences in 2008.
Suresh Kalmadi, the Congress politician in charge of organising the Games, is in custody on graft charges, while two ministers have resigned over the 2G licences allegedly being sold at bargain prices to select telecom firms.
Civil society efforts to strengthen the anti-graft bill have been spearheaded by veteran activist Anna Hazare, who won concessions from the government in April with a 98-hour hunger strike that gained national support.
Hazare, 78, is due to start another fast in Delhi on Tuesday to demand a tougher version of the bill.
But the government has attacked his plans, saying that elected politicians should decide which laws parliament passes rather than hunger strikers.
"Nothing is more undemocratic than the stance taken by Anna Hazare and his team," Kapil Sibal, the telecom minister who oversaw the bill's drafting, said on Sunday, adding that Hazare's demands were unacceptable.
Current anti-graft laws require the government's approval before any sitting bureaucrat or minister can be prosecuted. The proposed new bill is expected to remove this requirement.