Part one of the Nanawti Commission report, probing into the Godhara incident in Gujarat, released last month has once again opened the Pandora's Box over logic of setting up Inquiry Commissions in the country.
The report while giving clean chit to the Narendra Modi Government has supported the theory of conspiracy, leading to a widespread criticism across the country.
Many call it 'eye wash' and other call it 'sponsored report'. Communists have termed it a 'piecemeal' and fabricated report, whereas; National Democratic Alliance (NDA) calls it 'triumph of truth'.
Justice Nanawati report in fact contradicts the UC Banerjee report which also probed the Godhara incident. How a single incident draws two extreme conclusions?
The two reports have raised a very debatable issue. What do judicial commissions, appointed by the various governments to examine issues ranging from riots, scandals and assassinations to inter-state disputes actually achieve?
Critics of commissions say that their recent history has been extremely spotty. Apart from taking inordinately long to deliver reports, they seldom achieve anything.
Keeping apart from such allegations and counter allegations, the issue that has again come to fore is whether an inquiry commission can substitute criminal prosecution?
Do these Commissions serve any purpose? Is it not an eye wash? Are these Commissions able to bring culprits to book? Are not Commissions of inquiry a waste of time and money?
To understand the entire issue, one has to discuss the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952 itself. Before this Act came into being, the governments used to order an inquiry by executive notifications under Public Service Inquiry Act, 1850. Sometimes, they used to enact adhoc and temporary legislations too.
To meet the public demand for impartial and judicial inquiries, the Government of India came out with a comprehensive legislation, which resulted into passage of this Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952.
Since its enactment, the constitution of Inquiry Commissions has become a tool for the various governments to subside the public anger.
Since Independence, more than a hundred Inquiry Commissions have been set up, but a very few have served the purpose. And the reasons are obvious. First, the provisions enshrined in this Act are not of deterrent in nature and secondly, most of the time the Commissions are set up under retired Judges for obvious reasons.
Section 4 the Act provides for powers and it is clear that the Commission has no power to compel a person to adduce before it and give evidence. It cannot pass verdicts or judgments which could be enforceable.
The helplessness is such that even if an offence has been committed in view of or in presence of Commission, the Commission needs to forward the case to the Magistrate for trial as provided in Criminal Procedure code.
The appointment of retired Judges, as head of the Commission is very much suitable for the government. It is not merely a chance that one Judge has headed more than one Commission. The public perception is such that these Inquiry Commissions are becoming post retirement placement schemes for the favourite retired Judges.
We have a long list of such Commissions, which have made inordinate delay in submitting their reports. Many of them have taken decades in so called "conducting inquiries" and even then the report which was submitted were so voluminous that we required another committee to find out ways to implement the recommendations.
For example, as many as ten Commissions or committees have so far been set up with regard to the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
First of all it was the Marvah Commission headed by Additional Commissioner of Police Ved Marvah, that was set up in November, 1984.
The Commission was about to finish the assigned task when it was abruptly wounded up...