Godhra riots: Is the minorities commission flouting its own rules?

The National Commission of Minorities has issued summonses to Gujarat cops about the Godhra case based on a complaint filed before it. But in doing so it seems to ignore its own threshold of taking on such cases.

hidden March 12, 2012 18:31:06 IST
Godhra riots: Is the minorities commission flouting its own rules?

by Kartikeya Tanna

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM), according to The Hindu, has served summonses on serving and retired Gujarat cops asking them to appear before it and give evidence on the 27 February 2002 law and order review meeting held at Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's residence after the Godhra carnage. Ms Bannumiyan filed a complaint with the NCM on 10 February 2012 asking it to inquire, among other things, who attended the meeting which, according to her complaint, was a "precursor to the widespread targeted violence the following day". This request has apparently been made pursuant to Sanjiv Bhatt’s claim of having attended that meeting and hearing Modi make anti-Muslim remarks. The NCM decided to place this matter for an “early hearing” (Agenda No. 19).

Now according to PTI reports the NCM has summoned three of the Gujarat cops to depose before it on a representation containing allegations of the destruction of crucial records pertaining to the 2002 Godhra riots cases. It is not yet known whether this representation is a part of Ms Bannumiyan's complaint or an independent representation filed by someone else. Nonetheless, it can be presumed that the NCM will most likely merge it with Ms Bannumiyan’s complaint.

Godhra riots Is the minorities commission flouting its own rules

The NCM has summoned three of the Gujarat cops to depose before it on a representation containing allegations of the destruction of crucial records pertaining to the 2002 Godhra riots cases. PTI

The NCM's authority to summon these IPS officers and examine them on oath, similar to that of a civil court, is contained in Section 9(iv) of the NCM Act, 1992 which applies when the NCM is looking into specific complaints regarding deprivation of rights and safeguards of minorities under Section 9(i)(d). In carrying out its functions, the NCM can also requisition documents and other materials it thinks necessary.

Undoubtedly, the NCM is legally empowered to carry out such functions under the NCM Act. However, given the pendency of an ongoing judicial process authorised by the highest court of the land, as well as the likely impact it has, such a move by the NCM raises serious concerns in addition to being against its own rules and guidelines.

Firstly, a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on the NCM's website makes it clear that the NCM does not accept complaints “concerning matters sub judice” (3b) and those “for which ordinary judicial/quasi-judicial/administrative remedies are available elsewhere but have not been availed by complainant without any reasonable justification” (3c) or “those relating to events which are one year old or older” (3d). Moreover, such complaints are rejected in limine (Latin for “at the threshold”). Either the FAQs contain incorrect information, or the NCM has acted contrary to its own set of guidelines in this matter. (Note: The page for NCM rules, regulations and instructions is under construction)

More importantly, in deciding to act on this complaint, the NCM has presupposed serious deficiencies in the Special Investigation Team (SIT) investigation even before the SIT report is officially made public; and  examined by a competent court of law – the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Court – under the orders of the Supreme Court of this country. As The Hindu reports, Ms Bannumiyan has appealed to the Commission in view of the “alleged tardiness” in the investigation being conducted by the SIT.

As an Indian citizen, she has every right to approach the NCM. However, one would reckon it to be incumbent upon the NCM to objectively evaluate the impact of its parallel inquiry on pending proceedings. And, since the NCM has effectively accepted the “tardiness” of the unpublished SIT investigation report despite the fact that the latter has been carefully chosen by the Supreme Court, it is patently obvious that the NCM has not been objective.

Moreover, under Section 9(i)(d), the NCM “takes up such matters with appropriate authorities” after looking into the specific complaints. This means taking up the matter with the Gujarat Government and, possibly, the Central Government. Even if the NCM’s reports and findings do not have the same weight as a court of law, the fact that they would be made public indicates the measure of their influence on the ongoing judicial process.

To be sure, in a democracy, expressing displeasure at the manner of investigations or even at a court judgment through protests, individual petitions and media opinions is a vital right. But when a body like the NCM initiates a parallel, and, due to its very nature, highly visible, inquiry despite the fact that court proceedings in Ahmedabad are going on as per the Supreme Court’s directions, it is effectively signaling to the nation that it does not have trust in the Supreme Court, the SIT as well as the courts in Gujarat.

The impact of such a signal is not entirely dissimilar to that on Muslims of Azamgarh who have been reminded by Congress leaders of how questionable the Union Home Minister’s conclusions on the Batla House encounter are. And, unlike the Batla House encounter, which did not even have an independent judicial enquiry, the case against Modi and several others for their alleged involvement in the 2002 riots is proceeding under directions by the Supreme Court of India.

It must be stated there is no indication of Modi’s political opponents influencing this exercise – and such an insinuation must not even be made without facts. For a move to have political undertones, however, it isn’t necessary to always have the assent or the blessings of political parties. And when institutions of our country disregard objectivity in their dealings, politicisation is an inevitable and dangerous consequence.

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