Uncomfortable in the face of the demand for his resignation as co-chair of the Lokpal Bill drafting committee, following reports that two Noida plots were virtually gifted to him and his younger son, Jayant, Shanti Bhushan said on Wednesday he wouldn’t challenge it if the allotments were scrapped. But Bhushan, a former law minister who has been under the scanner since anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare proposed his name as co-chair and his elder son Prashant as a member of the committee, denied any wrongdoing. The allotment letters for two plots of 10,000 square metres each without an auction or a draw of lots were given to the Bhushans on payment of 10% of the price of Rs 3.5 crore. The rest of the amount was to be paid in 16 instalments.
Bhushan claimed no allotment had been made from any discretionary quota. “To suggest any discretionary quota is false and misleading.” He, however, conceded that in case the allotment has been arbitrary, it should be cancelled.
The group of ministers on corruption, headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, is scrutinising the discretionary land allotment powers of the central and state governments, considered to be one of the major sources of corruption. Civil society activists, however, dismissed demands for the resignation of the Bhushans from the committee. Lokayukta of Karnataka and a committee member, justice Santosh Hegde questioned the motive and timing of the allegations.
“To me it appears to be a concerted attempt to break Anna Hazare’s team,” Hegde said. Asked about the acceptance of plots by the Bhushans, he said, “What is being raked up is either five years old or two years old. Those who are trying to create sensation everyday could have objected when the committee was formed and please tell me who has probed the allegations?”
Information commissioner Shailesh Gandhi said mere allegations against noted lawyers couldn’t be a ground for recusal. “Please point the illegality committed by them. I vouch for their integrity; simply because somebody wants them out of the panel is not a good enough reason,” he said.
The government refused to be drawn into the controversy. “It is for Hazare to decide about his team and its propriety,” said a senior minister on condition of anonymity.
The Congress and even the BJP, which came out in support of the Bhushans on Tuesday, chose to keep mum on the issue. But a BJP spokesperson lambasted former Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh for questioning the Bhushans’ integrity. He said on Wednesday that the issue was between the government and civil society and Singh was not party to the whole episode. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s students wing, Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, asked Hazare to disown the Bhushans.