In the hubbub of sharp disagreement and the welter of allegation and counter-allegation relating to Law Minister Salman Khurshid’s charitable trust, there is a small but significant matter on which there is broad agreement. Namely, that a probe be ordered into the working of the Dr. Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust to determine if there was any misuse of Central government funds. Mr. Khurshid and his wife themselves have declared they are in favour of one and the allegations are serious enough to merit an impartial and thoroughgoing criminal investigation. Unfortunately, the need for a quick and effective probe is being lost in the flaming heat of the controversy. It has, for instance, been clouded by corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal’s strident campaign for Mr. Khurshid’s arrest and dismissal as minister — demands that are extreme at this juncture. At the same time, the issue is not — despite attempts by the Khurshids to give it such a spin — about their being subject to a trial by media. While the Khurshids may well be innocent of any wrongdoing, the charges against the trust cannot be brushed away by the Centre and the Congress leadership on the usual tired old grounds, by questioning motives and raising the bogey of political conspiracy. Or, as Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma shockingly tried to do, by making light of the relatively small amount — Rs.71.5 lakh — in this era of multi-crore scandals.
There are two broad charges against the trust, relating to the acquisition of funds and their disbursement. The first relates to a letter with a forged signature by an Uttar Pradesh government official on the basis of which funds were sanctioned by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Mr. Khurshid does not deny this, but argues that this is something that must be looked into and verified by the State government. The second and more contentious charge relates to whether forged documents were used to show that the trust had distributed tricycles and hearing aids to the differently abled. A draft inquiry by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) points to irregularities but the Khurshids say this is only an internal inspection report subject to revision after the audit is complete and that duly audited reports of what has been distributed and to whom have been submitted to the government. The fact that the U.P. police’s economic offences wing has started collecting documents in relation to the alleged financial irregularities is a start, though it remains to be seen whether this develops into a sincere and full-fledged probe. Since Mr. Khurshid has vociferously proclaimed his innocence, it is in his own interests to see that his name is cleared by an investigation — and quickly.