Civil society members on the Lokpal Bill drafting committee on Saturday decided to stay together despite the smear campaign against some members, with Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde declaring that “all members will continue to work in panel until the proceedings are over.”

A nearly two-hour meeting of the activists, chaired by Anna Hazare, here also decided to write to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia offering themselves to any independent, highest-level inquiry into any allegation against them. “We are ready to face any punishment if found guilty,” civil society member on the panel Arvind Kejriwal said at a news conference.

Mr. Hazare welcomed joint panel chairman Pranab Mukherjee's statement on Friday that the government would not allow controversies to affect the functioning of the panel. He hoped that the committee would expeditiously complete the formulation of a draft Lokpal Bill and provide an independent, effective and accountable anti-corruption authority to the country.

On the demand of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati that the panel should have a Dalit representative, Mr. Kejriwal said the government could replace one of the Ministers with a Dalit Minister on the joint drafting committee.

He said that during the initial talks with the government they had suggested inclusion of Leader of the Opposition on the panel but the government did not agree to it, maintaining that it was a “sarkari panel.”

The meeting was attended by co-chairman of the joint panel Shanti Bhushan, Mr. Hegde, Mr. Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan — all members of the joint panel — and Kiran Bedi and Swami Agnivesh of the India Against Corruption Movement.

The meeting assumed significance after Mr. Hegde publicly declared that he was hurt by Congress leader Digvijay Singh's comment on the efficacy of the Lokayukta in Karnataka. “Mr. Hegde is one of the best Lokayuktas we have in the country. His biggest wealth is his integrity. He was hurt but he has agreed to stay on. We have decided not to fritter away our energy on fighting out the smear campaign and will concentrate on the making of a strong, accountable and effective Lokpal Bill,” Mr. Kejriwal said.

“I discussed how I felt with Anna Hazareji and my other colleagues and they requested me to stay [on], so I have decided to continue,” Mr. Hegde told journalists.Asked if he might change his mind if the vilification campaign continued, he said, “Whether vilification campaign continues or not, we'll continue to work in the committee until proceedings are over.”

Asked whether the campaign was supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party that came to their rescue against the vilification campaign by some members of the Congress, Mr. Kejriwal said no party was with them. “Corrupt elements have got together … the need is for honest people to come together.”

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