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Amidst mud-slinging, Lokpal joint committee meets Saturday

Saturday April 16, 2011 08:12:21 AM, IANS

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New Delhi: Amid a raging controversy over a CD containing alleged conversations of civil society leader Shanti Bhushan regarding purported corrupt deals, the joint committee for drafting the anti-graft Lokpal Bill will hold its first meeting here Saturday.

However, civil society leaders, including Medha Patkar and Swami Agnivesh, said Friday that the "deviationary tactics by some vested interests" will not be able to derail the functioning of the committee, of which Shanti Bhushan is the co-chair.

The meeting of the 10-member committee, comprising five ministers and five civil society representatives, will begin at 11.30 a.m., sources added.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is chairman of the committee while social reformer Anna Hazare, who went on a 97-hour fast here to demand a stronger Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill to tackle corruption, is one of the five members from the civil society.

Hazare arrived in the national capital late Friday night.

A news conference called here Friday evening by the civil society leaders - addressed by committee members Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal - was dominated by questions on the CD, than on the agenda of Saturday's meeting.

Prashant Bhushan said the CD was a manipulated one and should be sent for forensic examination. According to him, the CD appeared to be a collage of conversations made in different contexts. He admitted some of the voices were similar to "Shanti Bhushan's but taken out of context".

The CD contains alleged conversations between Shanti Bhushan and Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and estranged SP leader Amar Singh regarding "fixing a judge in Uttar Pradesh for a price".

Demanding a thorough inquiry into the issue, Shanti Bhushan, a former law minister, said he has already filed an FIR in New Delhi.

Prashant Bhushan also refuted allegations by Congress leader Digvijay Singh that he and his father Shanti Bhushan had evaded stamp duty for a property in Allahabad.

"The house, purchased by his father, was a tenant property. Stamp duty of about Rs.6,66,000 was paid and an application in this regard was sent to the stamp duty collector," the junior Bhushan told reporters.

"In the application, it was also said that all pending amount will be paid if there is any more amount left," he said, adding that he would release the details soon.

Prashant Bhushan said: "The fact that a person (Digvijay Singh) has raised this issue shows that there is a very organised and concerted attempt to smear members of the civil society in the drafting committee with allegations like this," he said.

The Congress general secretary Thursday questioned the inclusion of the father-son duo in the anti-graft joint committee alleging they had evaded stamp duty to the tune of Rs.1.33 crore payable on a property in Allahabad.

Meanwhile, Medha Patkar, founder of the Narmada Bachao Andolan said she believes in the Bhushans.

"We have no doubt that the CD is unauthorized. I believe in Shanti Bhshan and Prashant Bhushan. Both of them are of indomitable spirit," she said.

"Let the committee start with a peaceful mind," she added.

Agnivesh said there "appears to be a move by some vested interests to rake up unfounded charges against the committee members" and deviate the public attention. "I do not think the move will succeed," he added.

Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed are the other ministerial members of the committee.

Amar Singh, former general secretary of the Samajwadi party, told reporters that the tape is "unauthorized".

Shanti Bhushan registered a complaint with Indraprastha Extension police station Thursday afternoon after being informed by a journalist of a national daily about an audio compact disc carrying recordings of his alleged conversations with Yadav and Singh.

Besides Hazare and Shanti Bhushan, lawyer Prashant Bhushan, Right To Information activist Arvind Kejriwal and former Supreme Court judge N. Santosh Hegde are also on the committee.

Khursheed told reporters Friday that the "government had an open mind to the committee's deliberations".

All members of the committee are likely to attend the meeting, sources said.

"The first meeting is likely to be of an introductory nature," Prashant Bhushan told IANS here.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that the bill will be introduced in the monsoon session of parliament in July.




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