Inquiry Commissions an eyewash
Justice K Chandroo, retired judge of Madras High Court, in an article captioned, “Whither Commissions of Enquiry,” in DT Next (May 27, 2018), categorically stated that an inquiry ordered under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 is an eyewash. The Commission is a toothless tiger, which is most often appointed to ward off public protests. Noted statesman and lawyer C Rajagopalachari, also remarked, “When you want to delay a matter or to keep it pending, appoint a commission of inquiry. State governments have faithfully followed that in all their inquiry commission appointments, involving extraordinary expenditure of public funds for such a wasteful extravaganza.”
When matters arise that require investigation, and if an investigation is not done expeditiously and honestly by an impartial agency, the outcome will be hampered and the issue will fizzle out, Justice Chandroo had observed. But governments have consistently stonewalled inquiries by an impartial investigating agency and adopted dilatory tactics. JB Monteiro wrote way back in 1964 in the Economic Weekly about the limitations of investigations conducted under the Commissions of Inquiry Act. First, the initiative in the appointment of a commission of inquiry rests entirely with the executive. It is a no brainer that the executive will not institute an inquiry into its own actions—that is what most inquiries are—unless forced to do so by strong outside pressure. Second, it is open to the executive to define the terms of reference of a Commission in such a manner as to defeat, to the maximum extent possible, the purpose of the inquiry. Further, under the Commissions of Inquiry Act the executive is not obliged to make public the findings of Inquiry Commissions. Nor are the findings binding on the executive.
The executive’s response may vary from outright rejection of an inquiry report to slack corrective action—taking advantage of the shortness of public memory. This is a serious limitation. Can the executive be allowed to set the terms on which it is to be judged? Accepting that it is the function of the executive to act in these matters, cannot some device be thought of whereby an inquiry into some matter of vital public importance is begun with fairly rational terms of reference? Also, the report when it is finally submitted by the judge appointed to head the Commission goes to the government which can tamper with it to suit its interests. It is in this context that Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s reference to the judicial enquiry, as something sacrosanct, each time the matter of suspension of the top police officials is demanded by pressure groups and the Opposition Congress, sounds trite. The public must realise that a judicial enquiry is an eyewash. Period.