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Virbhadra Singh becomes third minister in UPA-II to quit

Virbhadra Singh's decision came a day after the Himachal court framed charges of corruption and criminal misconduct against him and his wife Pratibha Singh in a 23-year-old case


New Delhi: Union Minister Virbhadra Singh resigned on Tuesday in the wake of a Himachal Pradesh court framing corruption charges against him, the third minister in United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-II to step down on similar grounds, reports PTI.

A five-time Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh, 78-year-old Singh, the Union Minister for Small, Micro and Medium Industries, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his Race Course Residence before announcing his resignation.

"I have given my papers to the Prime Minister," he said.

The Prime Minister has accepted his resignation and forwarded it to President Pratibha Patil, PMO sources said.

Virbhadra Singh, a veteran Congress leader, said he has resigned on moral grounds. "No one asked me to quit. This my moral duty as I did not want to embarrass my party, PM or government," he told reporters.

Singh's decision came a day after the Himachal court framed charges of corruption and criminal misconduct against him and his wife Pratibha Singh in a 23-year-old case, saying there was sufficient evidence to proceed against them.

The minister, who had met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi last evening, dismissed as "totally fabricated" the allegations against him.

He also sought to turn it into a political battle against the ruling BJP ahead of the Assembly elections in the state later this year.

Accusing the Prem Kumar Dhumal government of levelling "concocted" against him, Singh trained his guns at the Chief Minister, describing him as the "most corrupt and biggest lier in Himachal Pradesh".

"In the last 50 years, I have handled many portfolios like tourism and Steel and during my tenure nobody has questioned my integrity or that of my family," he said.

Singh said his resignation should not be seeing as an admission of guilt as he was going to fight the case to the logical conclusion.

He said the Chief Minister is turning Himachal into states like Punjab and Tamil Nadu, where political detractors are targeted.

"When we came to power, we thought we should not make HP like Punjab and Tamil Nadu where it has become a trend that whenever a new Government comes into power they start making charges on the ministers in the previous government," he added.

Singh is the third Union Minister to resign in UPA-II. Corruption allegations have already cost DMK leaders - A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran their cabinet posts.

Charges were framed against Singh and his wife under Section 120 B (conspiracy) of IPC and Sections 7,11 and 13 of Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) dealing with bribery and criminal misconduct.

The case against Singh goes back to 1989 when he was Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. The charges are based on an audio CD that purportedly contains a conversation with IAS officer Mohinder Lal during which they allegedly discussed kick-backs from industrialists who wanted to set up shop in the state.

They were booked in the case on 3 August 2009, on the basis of the CD released by his arch rival in the Congress and former minister Vijay Singh Mankotia in May 2007 and the prosecution filed the case in the court of special judge in October 2010.

While BJP insisted that the resignation has come after a "lot of public pressure", the Congress sought to project a moral high ground by saying that his guilt in the corruption case had not yet been established.

"Better late than never," BJP Spokesperson JP Nadda, who also hails from Himachal Pradesh, said.

AICC General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi said, "Virbhadra Singh has taken moral responsibility and resigned. A chargesheet has been filed. But it does not mean that he is guilty. Guilt has not been proven".

A combative Singh declared that he will fight the BJP tooth and nail.

"I will fight against them at every level...I am free from here (Centre) now I will give all my time," he said rejecting suggestions that the case has spoiled his chances of becoming the next chief minister.

Besides, he sought to project the case against him as an insult to the state.

"This is not the question of my respect, it is the question of Himachal Pradesh's respect," he said adding he has full trust in the court and the "people's court in the state".

He also dismissed the charges levelled by Team Anna against him and wondered as to why it was not seeing the corruption done by the Dhumal government.

He said he has already threatened to file a defamation case against Team Anna member Arvind Kejriwal.


Make public cabinet notes related to proposed bills says CIC

There is a larger public interest in disclosing Cabinet notes regarding introduction of any new bill in Parliament, after the Cabinet has taken a decision to table such a bill and the bill is tabled said CIC Shailesh Gandhi

New Delhi: The Central Information Commission (CIC) on Tuesday directed the Atomic Energy Department to make public the cabinet note relating to proposals for new bills on web sites within seven days of tabling in the Parliament, reports PTI.

The directives came while ordering the department to make public the cabinet note prepared for introduction of the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill by placing it on their web site before 20 July 2012.

"The Commission directs the Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, to display this Cabinet note and all Cabinet notes in future on the department's website where such Cabinet notes relate to proposing a new bill to be tabled in Parliament, within seven days of the bill being tabled in Parliament," Information Commission Shailesh Gandhi said.

Hearing the petition of RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak, Gandhi said a citizen has the right to know the basis on which the Cabinet decided to bring a particular law.

"There is a larger public interest in disclosing Cabinet notes regarding introduction of any new bill in Parliament, after the Cabinet has taken a decision to table such a bill and the bill is tabled", he said.

Gandhi said suo-moto disclosure clause of the RTI Act in Section 4(1)(d) says all public authorities must "provide reasons for administrative or quasi judicial decisions to affected persons".

"Citizens are certainly deeply affected by every law made by Parliament, and hence have a right to know the basis on which these laws are being made. The citizen who gives legitimacy to the Members of Parliament and thereby, to the institution of Parliament itself must be provided reasons which are behind the laws being made by Parliament", he said.

The Atomic Energy Department had rejected the request to make the cabinet note public saying that cabinet papers are exempt from disclosure under section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act.

Rejecting the arguments, Gandhi said, "the Commission rules that a Cabinet note is the material on the basis of which a Cabinet decision is taken to table a bill in the Parliament. Once the decision is taken by the Cabinet to table the bill in Parliament the 'decision has been taken'; when the bill is tabled in Parliament 'the matter is complete or over' as far as the Cabinet is concerned".

"In the instant case, since the 'the decision has been taken, and the matter is complete, or over' the exemption claimed under Section 8(1)(i) of the RTI Act by the PIO is not upheld", he said.

Gandhi directed the Atomic Energy Department to place the cabinet note on its web site before July 20, 2012.

He said disclosure of Cabinet Notes was also the intent of Parliament while framing the RTI Act.

In an elaborate order, Gandhi quoted speech of Varkala Radhakrishnan, MP, at the time of RTI bill was debated in Parliament who had said even Cabinet papers, after a decision has been taken, must be divulged as per the provisions of this amendment".

"It cannot be hidden from the knowledge of others. It must be divulged. But before taking a final decision, the Cabinet papers can be kept secret", Gandhi quoted Radhakrishnan in his decision.


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