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Tainted Delhi minister puts Cong in bind

New Delhi, March 2: The Congress high command appears in a fix over the fate of a Delhi minister whose removal has been recommended by the Lokayukta over his alleged attempts to save a tax evader.

Sonia Gandhi has discussed the issue with chief minister Sheila Dikshit but no decision was taken to sack Raj Kumar Chauhan.

The PWD minister had called up Jalaj Shrivastava, a commissioner of trade and taxes, in the middle of a raid on a resort and asked him to go slow.

The swoop at the Tivoli Garden Resort in south Delhi on February 20 was aimed at unearthing income hidden from the tax authorities.

Sources in the Congress say the leadership has taken a grim view of the minister’s conduct. They admit it was a case of impropriety but are not sure if his crime was serious enough to warrant dismissal.

The issue acquired a serious dimension when the Lokayukta, Justice Manmohan Sarin, recommended to President Pratibha Patil last week that Chauhan be removed from his post for interfering in the functioning of a government servant.

The Lokayukta had said: “Her Excellency, President of India, may thus be pleased, in the exercise of statutory discretion, to withdraw her pleasure for the Respondent (Chauhan) to hold office in terms of Clause (5) of Article 239AA of the Constitution of India and Section 12 of the Act, being the competent authority under the act.”

The Lokayukta had expressed doubts over the commissioner’s attitude, saying he had not been consistent and his flip-flop pointed to attempts to save the minister.

While the minister has not denied the facts, the BJP has launched an agitation demanding his removal.

The central leadership of the Congress is worried that the controversy around Chauhan could weaken its campaign against Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa over his alleged corruption in land deals.

Congress leaders are convinced that the two cases are not comparable as the Lokayukta in Karnataka wanted the prosecution of Yeddyurappa. But the leaders fear that by rejecting the recommendation against Chauhan outright, the party ran the risk of appearing immoral.

While some senior leaders want Chauhan to be sacked, others fear this will open a Pandora’s box and push many ministers in trouble.

A Delhi government source said: “The issue here is that the minister made a call to a bureaucrat because one of his acquaintances approached him for help. If that is reason enough for sacking a minister, things will become very difficult for politicians.”

But not everybody is taking such a simplistic view. They feel that the minister was trying to protect a tax evader and the amount involved ran into several crores.

Congress sources said Sonia had told chief minister Dikshit that no undue attempt should be made to save the minister but did not ask her to sack him.

There is a possibility that the Delhi government will send back the file to the President by merely stating the facts, thus avoiding a categorical stance on his dismissal.

If that indeed happens, Patil will have to take legal opinion and decide for herself what should be done with the minister.

Such a process could take at least three months. Till then, the Delhi government and the Congress will have to brazen out the attacks made by the BJP, which has managed to save Yeddyurappa despite the taint.

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