The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tehelka panel chief steps down

New Delhi, Nov. 23: Justice K. Venkataswami, chairman of the one-man Tehelka inquiry commission, today resigned from the panel as well as a senior government post he was appointed to after an uproar in Parliament over the impropriety of accepting a position while probing the portal exposé.

After the Opposition yesterday charged that his appointment as chairman of advance ruling in the customs and excise department had compromised his position as head of the Tehelka probe, an embarrassed Justice Venkataswami today shot off a letter to the Prime Minister, resigning from the posts. His move has put a question mark on the ongoing inquiry into the defence scam.

Earlier in the day, he had said that the “PMO has to take a decision... they should tell you the exact position”.

A retired judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Venkataswami was brought in to the Tehelka inquiry to probe the defence scandal as he was known as a “fair judge”, law ministry sources said. The Chief Justice (then Justice S.P. Bharucha) had recommended his name for the customs and excise post in January this year for his “integrity and mastery over law relating to money matters”, sources said.

However, the Opposition led by the Congress decided to corner the government on Justice Venkataswami’s appointment to the finance ministry post, saying it was an open dole from the government to get a good certificate in the Tehelka exposé.

The Opposition accused the Centre of “compromising” the judge’s position.

Speaking in Tamil, Justice Venkataswami sounded philosophical. “One has to take this (as a result of) bad times... That’s all,” he said.

It was the Chief Justice who had, in his opinion, recommended his name and till the top judge spoke to him, he was not aware that his name was considered for the post.

When asked how then it would amount to an unethical act, Justice Venkataswami said that “they (those who raised the issue) should know it better”.

Justice Bharucha’s letter recommending Justice Venkataswami’s name to the post of chairman of advance rulings made it clear that he had consulted Justice Venkataswami.

The controversy thus saw an unusual act of the government releasing the “confidential” letter of the Chief Justice to the press, that, too, through BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley yesterday. Any correspondence between the Chief Justice and the government, whether it relates to a legal opinion or a recommendation or any other matter, is usually considered “secret” and kept in confidential files.

Jaitley said the government had nothing to do with the appointment nor had any vested interest and that the appointment was effected on the recommendation of the Chief Justice.

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