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Venkataswami's resignation to be accepted

New Delhi Nov. 24. The Vajpayee Government has decided to accept the resignation of Justice K. Venkataswami, the judge heading the Tehelka probe. It has also decided to request the Chief Justice of India to suggest a replacement.

The decision to accept the resignation was reportedly taken in anticipation of the Opposition parties keeping the Tehelka pot boiling. On their part, the Opposition parties are preparing to take the Government to task in the matter, when the two Houses of Parliament meet tomorrow. The Opposition parties may revive their original demand that a Joint Parliamentary Committee inquire afresh the veracity of the Tehelka revelations.

The Government took stock of the situation at a high-level meeting with the Prime Minister at his residence. Besides, the Prime Minister, those who attended the confabulations included the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, the Law Minister, Jana Krishnamurthy, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Pramod Mahajan, the Attorney-General, Soli Sorabjee, and the former Law Minister and BJP spokesman, Arun Jaitley. The judge, himself, is reported to be upset that the Government did not put up a stout defence when the Opposition sought to impugn his credibility. In fact, the Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, had rather apologetically remarked that he was not the Finance Minister when the appointment was made.

The Opposition parties are inclined to believe that Justice Venkataswami had done the right thing in resigning; the Government's detractors are prone to blame the Government for appointing a judge simultaneously to another official panel when he was already heading a Commission of Inquiry against the Government. The Opposition's case is that the Government itself should have been alive to the perception of a possible conflict of interests, even as Justice Venkataswami's name was processed through the then Chief Justice of India.

Even the legal fraternity is of the view that it was the Government's obligation to anticipate the charge of making a "temptation offer'', given the serious political import of the Venkataswami Panel. It is pointed out that though there are precedents of one retired judge heading two judicial panels, the Tehelka probe is a class by itself.

The Opposition thinking was revealed by the RJD leader, Laloo Prasad Yadav, who was reported to have observed in Patna today that the Government's intentions stood "exposed'' and that if the Government was not agreeable to a JPC, the Opposition would want Justice Venkataswami's replacement to be decided jointly by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.

Another Opposition member, Nilotpal Basu of the CPI(M) told The Hindu that the matter would be definitely raised, irrespective of the fact that Justice Venkataswami had taken the morally correct step.

The whole affair, according to him, compels the Opposition to question the Government's approach.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Jaitley had accused the Opposition parties of unfairly casting aspersions about the objectivity a judge. According to him, the onus was on the Opposition for creating a situation that would necessarily delay the Tehelka probe. The Government would not be inclined to concede the demand for a parliamentary probe.