In C’garh’s Cong vs BJP, a new twist over commission to probe deadly Maoist attack

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RAIPUR: Five days after a judicial commission headed by former Chhattisgarh high court judge Prashant Kumar Mishra submitted its report on the 2013 Jhiram Ghati Maoist attack which wiped out the then Congress leadership in the state, the Chhattisgarh government on Thursday appointed a new chairman, added another member to the enquiry commission, and added new terms of reference.

While the state government said the rationale for the change was that Mishra has become the chief justice of the Andhra Pradesh high court, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the move was an attempt to obfuscate the findings of the report, which has not yet been tabled in the assembly or its contents released, and was a delaying tactic.

The justice Prashant Kumar Mishra-led commission, constituted on May 28, 2013, by the then BJP government, submitted its findings to the Chhattisgarh governor Anusiya Uike on November 6.

It is not clear what happens to this report. Asked by HT to clarify the status of this report, Raj Bhavan officials said the report is still with the governor and she will respond after going through it.

To be sure, the Congress including chief minister Bhupesh Baghel objected to the commission directly submitting the report to the governor, pointing out that it should have been submitted to the state government. The ruling party also asked why the commission rushed to submit its report when in September it sought more time to complete the report.

The commission was set up to probe the May 25, 2013 Maoist attack on a convoy of Congress leaders during the party’s Parivartan Rally’ in the Jhiram valley in Bastar district of Chhattisgarh, killing 29 people including then state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel, former leader of opposition Mahendra Karma and former Union minister V C Shukla.

The new order appoints Justice (retired) Satish K Agnihotri, former chief justice of Sikkim high court, as the new chairman of the commission and justice (retired) G Minhajuddin as a member. Both of them have served tenures as judges in the Chhattisgarh high court.

In September, the government said the commission sought further time, and that a fresh report will be issued in six months.

“…The state government was in receipt of the last communication made by the secretary of the commission dated September 23, 2021, by which the commission informed that the inquiry is incomplete and sought further time. The state government has decided to appoint two new members, former judges of high court as Justice Prashant Mishra has been transferred. State has further added three new points in the terms of reference (TOR) of the Commission,” Thursday’s notification said.

The three terms of reference include that firstly whether sufficient medical aid was provided to the victims of the attack after the incident and secondly what appropriate steps were taken to prevent such incidents have been included in the probe.

“The third term of reference will be determined according to circumstances by the commission or the state government,” the notification said.

The BJP, however, asked why the report submitted five days ago has not been tabled for discussion.

“The commission submitted its report only a while back, which is supposed to be tabled in the assembly and then discussed in the assembly. We don’t understand why there is a rush and disbelief in the submitted report. I don’t think the report will change if it’s submitted to the governor rather than the CM… The government should have waited till it gets tabled and discussed in the assembly. If they still had reservations they could have gone and appointed a new commission or changed its members,” said Dharamlal Kaushik, leader of opposition in the legislative assembly.

Chhattisgarh government spokesperson and senior minister Ravindra Chaubey said the term of the single-member judicial commission expired due to administrative exigency after the transfer of justice Prashant Mishra.

“The secretary of the aforementioned commission in his communication had informed the state government that the commission would require additional time to complete proceedings, therefore it has been decided to reconstitute the judicial commission by appointing two new members with a mandate to complete the proceedings in next six months,” said Chaubey adding that no new commission has been constituted, only the previously notified judicial commission has been reconstituted owing to administrative exigencies.

“The state government has the power to appoint, dissolve or modify any commission or its terms of reference. Since the commission itself asked the state government to extend the time to complete the inquiry in its last communication, the state government has acted on the same,” said Sudeip Shrivastava, a lawyer, who represented state Congress before the commission.

Kanak Tiwari, senior lawyer and former advocate general for the Chhattisgarh government said the state government has the jurisdiction to appoint the new members of a commission as per provisions of Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952.

“It is an administrative issue. not a legal issue. The appointments were made as per the provisions of the Inquiry Act, which is an administrative Act and has no constitutional sanction. As per the Act, the state government has the jurisdiction to constitute judicial commissions or appoint any number of members for a commission… Irrespective of the fact that there was a report of commission earlier, the state government can make appointments,” Kanak Tiwari, senior lawyer and former advocate general of Chhattisgarh.

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