NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Agencies) - The lower house of India’s parliament passed a bill on Tuesday to create an anti-corruption ombudsman, in a move the government hopes will deflate a protest movement whose leader has tapped into widespread anger at corrupt public officials.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has been at the receiving end of middle-class frustration with everyday graft and multi-billion dollar scandals in Asia’s third largest economy, a state of affairs that forced the government this summer to agree to pass anti-corruption legislation before the year end. The bill was passed after a rowdy debate, with the main opposition party voting against it and several others walking out. It may now be held up in the upper house, where the government coalition does not have a majority.

In a sign of the rough ride the legislation will likely get in the upper house, the government failed to get the two-thirds majority it needed to make the bill a constitutional amendment.

Protest leader Anna Hazare, 74, who began a three-day fast to coincide with the parliamentary debate, wants the ombudsman to have greater powers to investigate high ranking scammers. He says the protests will continue unless his demands are met.

Seen as a hero by many, Hazare swept to national prominence this summer when tens of thousands came out in support of his two-week hunger strike after months of news about corruption scandals damaged India’s image as an emerging power. Among the worst cases were a telecoms license scam that cost the exchequer $39 billion, according to one government probe, and rampant financial misdealings around the shambolic 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Hazare’s health was in question on Tuesday just hours after he started his fast, with TV saying he may need to be hospitalized. Doctors visited the protest site in India’s financial capital Mumbai and took blood samples for testing. His support has flagged in recent weeks, with the government’s apparent willingness to bow to many of his demands taking the sting out of his arguments that nothing is being done. Accusations of financial misdeeds by his aides and infighting have also taken their toll.

Meanwhile, in a strong speech pitching for the Lokpal bill, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday said a final decision on the legislation must rest with parliament and stressed that the CBI should be independent of Lokpal.  Speaking in the Lok Sabha during the debate on the bill tabled last week, Singh said the bill “lives up to the promise that members of this house collectively made to the people of the country by the way of ‘sense of house’”.

He also said that it is wrong to dub all bureaucracy and politicians as “corrupt” or “dishonest.”

“It (passage of the bill) is a serious business and must eventually be performed by all of us who have been constitutionally assigned. Others can persuade and their voices heard, but the decision must rest with us,” Singh said referring to Anna Hazare, who is fasting in Mumbai for a strong Lokpal.

Hazare is fasting for three days while parliament is debating the Lokpal bill Dec 27-29.

On the CBI, the Prime Minister said: “I believe that the CBI should function independently of the Lokpal. I also believe that the CBI should function independently of the government. But independent does not mean absence of accountability.”

“We have, therefore, proposed a framework for the appointment of CBI director which involves the prime minister, the chief justice of India or his nominee, and the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha and no one should have doubt about the integrity of this process,” he added.