As corruption allegations swirled around Lokpal Bill drafting panel members Shanti Bhushan and his son Prashant, social activists rejected demands for their resignation and urged them not to quit even as another member, justice N. Santosh Hegde said he would consider leaving the committee.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he hoped to bring the Lokpal Bill, ensuring stringent anti-graft measures, in the monsoon session of parliament in July.
RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, a member of the drafting committee, addressing a press conference in the capital said: “No one is going to resign.”
He was referring to allegations against the joint committee co-chair Shanti Bhushan and his lawyer son and panel member, Prashant Bhushan, of wrong-doing in land deals in Noida and Allahabad, which they have vigorously denied.
“We are not going to run away from the field,” Kejriwal said.
However, former Supreme Court judge Santosh Hegde, who is another member of the panel, said in Bangalore that he would come to Delhi Saturday and discuss the demand of resignations with his colleagues.
He told a TV channel that he was “hurt by the vilification campaign (against the Bhushans) by some political leaders”. “I am seriously thinking of quitting the Lokpal panel,” Hegde said.
Besides alleged to be involved in wrongdoing in land deals, the Bhushans have also figured in a controversial audio CD which has purported conversations between Shanti Bhushan, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh and expelled SP member Amar Singh trying to fix a dubious legal deal.
While a Delhi Police source Thursday said the CD was not tampered with, the civil activists claimed the CD was fake.
Meanwhile, Manmohan Singh said the government was hopeful of speedy work on the Lokpal Bill.
“Our aim is to strengthen the legislative framework, revamp administrative practices and procedures and fast track a systemic response to fighting corruption. A committee of ministers and representatives of civil society is at work to finalise the draft of theBill, which we hope to be able to introduce during the monsoon session of parliament,” he told a gathering of civil servants.
While the prime minister put forward the government’s agenda, the panel to draft the bill, set up April 9 after a fast-unto-death by reformer Anna Hazare, found itself fighting taint.
Shanti Bhushan has claimed that the CD is forged and that he has never spoken to the two politicians – Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh. He had last week registered a police complaint.
A Delhi Police official Thursday said that “initial” reports from a forensic lab in Hyderabad suggested the CD was not tampered with.
“We have received the reports today (Thursday) and the test confirms that it is not tampered,” a source at the Delhi Police Special Cell told .
However, Kejriwal said the CD controversy was engineered by “vested interests” carrying out a “malicious campaign” against them.
He also pointed out that Truth Labs in Hyderabad and an independent US audio forensic expert George Papcun had found the CD to be spliced together from earlier conversations.
Meanwhile, Amar Singh reiterated Thursday that the Bhushans should resign from the committee.
“The Bhushans say they don’t know me… He said he has not met or interacted with me, but in 1996 he appeared twice in a case filed by us. We paid fees to him which he has conveniently forgotten,” Amar Singh told a TV channel.
Amar Singh said even if the CD is spliced, the content is serious and needs to be investigated.
In Lucknow, Congress leader Digvijay Singh was also in attack mode. He said he would answer Shanti Bhushan’s defamation notice in court.
The Bhushans also got the backing of their colleagues Kiran Bedi and Swami Agnivesh. The Bhushans, Bedi said, were doing a “national duty” and had a limited agenda to draft an effective anti-corruption law.
Former IPS officer and a member of the civil activists group India Against Corruption, Kiran Bedi meanwhile ‘appealed’ to the Bhushans not to quit the panel.
“We are appealing to the Bhushans whatever they are suffering, bear with it as it is for national interest,” Bedi said.
Kejriwal added that withdrawal of any member at this point of time will mean derailment of the process of forming a strong anti-corruption law.
“If any of the members quit, who will benefit? The events are at a historic turning point, where the country could get a very stringent anti-graft law,” he added.
Agnivesh said in Ranchi that the Congress party should restrain Digvijay Singh from making defamatory statements against the civil liberty leaders. “Otherwise, it will tarnish the image of the party,” he warned.