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December 2005
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Commissions-Who Implements Them?
By A Staff Writer

Successive State governments have done little to implement the recommendations or punish those indicted by the Srikrishna Report.

Recently, the Supreme Court heard a petition on the implementation of Justice B .N Srikrishna Report on the riots that followed the 1993 blasts.“Even after so many years, successive State governments have done little to implement the recommendations or punish those indicted by the report,” said Congress MLA from Kurla, Naseem Khan, who filed the petition in the SC.

All previous riot probe reports have met with the same fate. Take, for example, the Reddy Commission Report on the 1969 Ahmedabad riots. It was prepared so painstakingly by Justice Reddy and fixed responsibility for the communal violence. But the then State Government turned a blind eye to the main body of recommendations and suggestions and implemented some fringe suggestions such as reforming the police. The report indicted 31 policemen, including former top cop R.D Tyagi. “The evidence before the Commission indicates that the police personnel were found actively participating in riots, communal incidents or incidents of looting, arson and so on. The Commission strongly recommends that the government takes strict action against them,” reads the report. But Tyagi and eight other policemen, charged with murder by the Special Task Force, were acquitted. “The state chose not to appeal against the order,” said social activist Teesta Seetalvaad, who is one of the interveners in the case. Action has not been taken against Madhukar Sarpotdar, who was also indicted in the report. The petition asks for implementation of the report in toto.

Much has been written and said about the ineffectiveness of commissions and surprise and indignation is constantly expressed at how the positions taken by them mirror the “official” narratives.

The only real check on the executive’s control over the Commission is in the form of Section 3 (4) of the Act. This Section was amended in 1971 in order to obligate the government to lay the report of the Commission, as well as the memorandum of action taken, before the legislature. The question arises whether the failure to do so on the executive’s part is judicially reviewable.

In the Fazar- ul- Rahman vs. State of UP, the Parekh Commission report on the 1982 Meerut riots was submitted in 1988, but no action was taken until 1998. The Court condemned this in the strongest terms and said that such delay meant that the entire exercise was an eye-wash. This requirement to submit the report under the act could conceivably provide an important leverage point, not only in ensuring that the commission’s recommendations are acted upon, but on the quality of the report itself.

A. G. Noorani points out that the underlying rationale of this formal requirement is the corollary of the citizens’ fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, which is their right to know. This Right to know, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right, binds the state with a duty to impart the information even if the Report is publicised, the lack of any measures for ensuring enforceability make the sanction a weak one at best. Even in the case of the Srikrishna Commission, despite the publicity and mobilisation of political and civil society activists, it was only when the government changed that any action was actually taken on the report. The Srikrishna Commission, in fact is an exception in several ways. It provides at least one example where the political constraints have not prevented a Commission from naming the guilty, including state officials and police machinery. Though definite action is still to be taken on the report, the report itself has become a standard bearer for all such commissions. It begins with a clear and detailed enunciation of each of its terms of reference.

Besides the direct indictment, the two-volume Srikrishna Commission Report provides insights into the role of communal and hate propaganda groups, the communalization of the police force and the evolution of a theory on the nature of communal violence itself.

Yet, the statutory framework as well as the lack of political will, make Commissions like Srikrishna and Liberhan an exception rather than the rule. The real problem with Commissions of Inquiries is not that they exist in the murky realm of politics. The problem is in fact structural and needs deeper insight.