Team Anna rift: Justice Hegde not on board with allegations against PM

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New Delhi:  Justice Santosh Hegde, one of the most senior and respected members of Team Anna, is upset with the group's recent allegations of corruption against the Prime Minister and 14 senior ministers. Mr Hegde, who has served as the ombudsman or Lokayukta of Karnataka, told NDTV on Tuesday that he "disassociates himself" from the comments made over the weekend by Team Anna, the term used for the activists who work closely with Gandhian Anna Hazare.

On Saturday, lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan and other Anna aides like Arvind Kejriwal accused the PM, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and 13 other ministers of graft. This was the first time that Team Anna charged Dr Manmohan Singh with corruption. Along with him, those targeted included SM Krishna, P Chidambaram and Salman Khurshid. Team Anna said it wanted a Special Investigation Team or SIT with three retired judges to handle a probe against the ministers. The activists warned that if the SIT was not set up by July 24, they would begin an indefinite fast from July 25.

The government said the claims were unsubstantiated and did not merit a response.

The opposition BJP agreed that the language used against the PM was uncalled for. So on Tuesday, Mr Bhushan clarified "The Prime Minister himself may not have taken money, but he is being used as an armour. What is the point of honesty when he can't do anything about corruption in the government?"

Justice Santosh Hegde, one of the most senior and respected members of Team Anna, is also upset with the group's recent allegations of corruption against the Prime Minister and 14 senior ministers. Mr Hegde, who has served as the ombudsman or Lokayukta of Karnataka, told NDTV on Tuesday that he "disassociates himself" from the comments made over the weekend by Team Anna, the term used for the activists who work closely with Gandhian Anna Hazare.

For External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, the group said that while he was Chief Minister of Karnataka from 1999 to 2004, iron-ore mines were given to private companies at throwaway prices. Mr Krishna has rejected the allegations. As the Karnataka Lokayukta, Justice Hegde headed a detailed inquest of illegal mining in the state. His report, submitted last year, just before his term in office ended, indicted BS Yeddyurappa who was forced to resign as chief minister. But the retired judge maintains that he found no incriminating evidence against Mr Krishna. "Now the team (Anna) says they have more material which implicates Krishna and they want further inquiry. It is for them to decide. In this background, I have nothing to say," he stressed.

Justice Hegde was one of five civil society representatives nominated by Anna last year to a committee that included five ministers - their agenda was to draft a path-breaking new anti-corruption or Lokpal Bill. The Lokpal refers to a national ombudsman empowered to investigate charges of corruption against government servants. The committee that paired the activists and the ministers fought bitterly and publicly before deciding to draft their own versions of the proposed legislation. The government eventually presented its own draft for consideration by Parliament. The Lokpal Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in December but has yet to be cleared by the Rajya Sabha. It was referred earlier this month for more study to a parliamentary committee, leading many analysts to conclude that the bill is effectively now in cold storage.

Mr Hegde had last year said that he did not support Team Anna's decision to campaign against the ruling Congress during a by-election for the Lok Sabha seat from Hissar in Haryana.




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