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Post at: Aug 19 2021

The Commissions of Enquiry Act 1952

Why in News?

  • On July 26, 2021, the West Bengal government appointed a Commission of Inquiry into the alleged surveillance of phones using the Pegasus spyware developed by the Israeli Cyber-Intelligence Comapny NSO Group. The Commission was set up under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952.
  • The West Bengal government has tasked the Lokur Commission to submit a report within six months.

About the Commission appointed by West Bengal Government .

  • The Commission comprises former Supreme Court Justice Madan B. Lokur and former Calcutta High Court Justice Jyotirmay Bhattacharya.
  • It will look into the alleged breach of privacy of several individuals.
  • According to the West Bengal government, the commission will enquire into and report on inter alia the reported interception and the possession, storage and use of such information collected through such interception, in the hands of State actors and non-State actors.

Power of Commission (Set up under Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952)

  • The Commission has the power of a civil court, while trying a suit under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, in respect of the following matters :-

    (a) summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person from any part of India and examine him on oath.
    (b) requiring the discovery and production of any document (under section 5 of the Act) ;
    (c) receiving evidence on affidavits :
    (d) requisitioning any public record or copy there of from any court or office :
    (e) issuing commissions for the examination of witness or documents ;
    (f) any other matter which may be prescribed.

Kind of subjects that a commission can probe

  • Under section 2 (a) of the 1952 Act, Commissions set up by the Union Government can make an enquiry related to any subjects mentioned in List I (Union list) or List II (State List) or List III (Concurrent List) in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution, while Commissions set up by state governments can look into entries in List II or List III.
  • The Union Government can set up a commission on the same subject on which the state has appointed one, if it (the Union Govt.) is of the opinion that scope of the inquiry should be extended to two or more states.

    What value does such a commission's report have?

  • The findings of such inquiry commissions are normally tabled in the Assembly or Parliament, depending on who constituted it
  • The government is not bound to make the report public. The findings are not binding on the executive but can be relied upon by courts as evidence.

Short History of Inquiry Commissions

  • There have been political tussles between state governments and the Union Government leading to setting up of different Commissions of Inquiry on the same subject matter.
  • In 2002, when Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, the state government had set up a commission of retired Justices GT Nanavati and AH Mehta to probe the Godhra train burning and the subsequent riots. The commission later gave a clean chit to the state government.
  • In 2004, then Union Railways Minister in the Congress-led UPA government, constituted a Commission of Inquiry on the same subject, under former Supreme Court judge UC Banerjee. The Banerjee Commission reported findings contrary to that of the state commission. However the Gujarat High Court later held that the constitution of the Banerjee Commission was illegal and quashed its conclusions since the state appointed commission was already looking into the issue.

Way Forward :-

  • The setting up of a commission of inquiry is expected to raise tension between the Union govt. and the West bengal govt. The state govt. hopes to make political pressure on the Union govt. by alleging it of phone tapping and surveillance. Any such dispute should be avoided to protect the federal set up of India. Even disputes arising due to political reasons must be resolved amicably through dialogue between the Union and the state government.

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