‘What’s the use of probe panels’

Justice S.M. Subramaniam of the Madras High Court on Thursday disapproved of the practice of constituting commissions of inquiry at the cost of taxpayers and letting them continue for years together without serving any useful purpose.

He said people had lost faith in such commissions whose functioning was nothing but a “mockery.”

The judge made these observations during the hearing of a writ petition filed by DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi in 2015, challenging the proceedings of the Justice R. Regupathy Commission of Inquiry constituted in 2011.

The Regupathy Commission was constituted to conduct a probe into alleged irregularities in the construction of a new Secretariat complex during DMK’s 1996-2011 regime.

In so far as the case before him was concerned, the judge said there was no necessity for constituting the commission if it was satisfied that there were prima facie materials to suspect corruption in the construction of the multi-crore building now being used for a government multi super speciality hospital at Anna Salai here.

“The charge may be against anyone — the former Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister or the Minister concerned. We are not at all attributing any personal motives against them.

Instead of initiating action under the Prevention of Corruption Act, what is the purpose of appointing a commission when you know pretty well that it is ineffective?” the judge asked.

He went on to tell Advocate General Vijay Narayan that such an act of the State government leaves the court with no choice but to “draw an inference that you have misguided the people. You have indirectly granted waiver of an offence. Appointing a commission in a case like this amounts to diluting the corrupt activities.”

He said the court would also have to see whether the commission in the present case had been constituted for “genuine reasons or political reasons.”

He wondered why the government hadn’t suspended the operation of the commission so far though the High Court had stayed its operation, on the present writ petition, in 2015 itself.

It was pointed to the A-G that the State government had not taken any step so far either to get the stay vacated or to file a counter- affidavit to the writ petition. “We are really worried about the taxpayers’ money Sir. The retired judges, who head these commissions, could be used for some other purposes,” Mr. Justice Subramaniam said.

Stating that the issue of constitution of commissions of inquiry was of public importance, the judge said he was contemplating laying down broad guidelines on the issue.

He asked the A-G to submit by August 1 a list of commissions that had been constituted in the State so far and how many of them had submitted their reports so far.

The other details sought by the judge included the number of government bungalows allotted to the retired judges heading those commissions, the amount of money spent by the government for the functioning of those commissions, the number of government employees deployed in those commissions and their current status.

Having come to know through the High Court Registry that some of the commissions of inquiry have been continuing for more than eight years and without any end in sight, the judge said propriety demanded that a person appointed as the head of such commissions should also desist from misusing public funds.

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