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New law likely to keep Cong place on Jallianwala Bagh trust

AICC only institution which has the right to be represented in the Trust, Cong MPs had written in a complaint to standing committee...

Written by MANINI CHATTERJEE | New Delhi |
July 21, 2006 1:40:37 am

Reversing a move by the NDA government to change the composition of the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust, the Union Cabinet is set to clear a fresh legislation to ensure that the Congress president will always remain a member of the prestigious trust.

The bill, likely to be introduced in the upcoming Monsoon Session of Parliament, is aimed at underlining that the Congress is not just any other political outfit but retains a ‘‘unique’’ stature in view of the signal role it played during India’s freedom struggle, sources said.

On April 23, 2003 the NDA government introduced the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial (Amendment) Bill, 2003 in Lok Sabha seeking to amend the original act passed in 1951.

As per the provisions of the 1951 Act, the trustees were Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Saifuddin Kitchlew, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the president of the Indian National Congress, the governor of Punjab, the chief minister of Punjab and three people nominated by the central government. The first three were declared trustees for life.

The ‘statement of objects and reasons’ of the 2003 bill noted that ‘‘with a view to filling up the vacancies caused on account of the passing away of the life Trustees, it has become necessary to amend the said Act..’’

Accordingly, the bill sought to amend Section 4(1) of the Act and named the following as the trustees: Prime Minister, union minister of culture, union minister of home, governor of Punjab, chief minister of Punjab, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, and three eminent people to be nominated by the central government.

A significant omission, leading to protests from Congress MPs, was the president of the Indian National Congress.

The bill was thereafter sent to the standing committee on transport, tourism and culture. The report of the standing committee, headed by CPI(M) MP Nilotpal Basu, was tabled in both Houses of Parliament on December 3, 2003. With the NDA government deciding to go in for early elections in 2004, the bill could not be passed during their term in office.

The issue, though, continued to haunt the Congress. In fact, four Congress MPs as well as IUML MP GM Banatwala had submitted notes of dissent to the standing committee report objecting to the exclusion of the Congress chief from the new board of trustees.

In a joint note of dissent, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Vayalar Ravi and K Rahman Khan wrote: ‘‘Prior to independence, the Indian National Congress functioned not as a political party but as a national movement of struggle for freedom, taking under its banner, all activities of different political ideologies, who by and large, rallied under the Indian National Congress’ banner of revolt. Even the life members of the Trust were not simply leaders of one political party but National leaders of high esteem and reverence. Since these stalwarts of the yesteryears have ceased to be the members of the Trust, by demise, it is all the more reprehensible to do away with the name of the President of the Indian National Congress from the Trust as the AICC is the only institution which has the inherent right to be represented in the Trust through its President.’’

GM Banatwala and Vilas Muttemwar (Cong) also submitted similar notes of dissent which were appended to the standing committee report.

The report itself noted that ‘‘the Committee is of the view that the composition of the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial Trust as presribed in the parent Act was in order and the inclusion of the President of the Indian National Congress was in keeping with the contribution of the Indian National Congress in the freedom movement in general, and glorious struggle which led to the Jallianwala Bagh incident in particular.’’

It added that the intention of the present bill should not ‘‘belittle’’ this contribution and that ‘‘this intention should be clearly reflected in the ims and Objectives of the bill.’’

However, much to the chagrin of the Congress, the committee did not press for the inclusion of the Congress chief in the new board of trustees even while it disagreed with the appointment of the union home minister to the trust. The UPA government, therefore, has now decided to bring in a fresh bill to amend the 1951 Act. Under this bill, the trustees will be the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Congress president, the governor and chief minister of Punjab and three nominated members, sources said.

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