We live in a society where pursuing the greater good has resulted in decisions made by government departments significantly harming the affairs of individual citizens. Political parties and other elements of society are now calling for the creation of an inquiry commission as a matter of urgency. The major purpose of such an investigation is to learn the opinions of diverse groups of individuals who may suffer as a result of the concerned authority’s exercise of such administrative power.
The administration must exercise extensive powers to undertake investigations and inquiries into diverse situations in order to be able to carry out the many tasks that have been delegated to it successfully. The main goal of this strategy is to gather data in order to decide on a future course of action to handle a certain circumstance or to identify solutions to a particular issue. Only when the policy maker or administrator has all the necessary information, facts, and figures can he or she begin effective corrective efforts to address a given issue. In order to gather this data, inquiries and investigations become an indispensable instrument in the hands of administrators.
In addition to gathering opinions, the commission of inquiry also aims to obtain the essential information or facts on a particular issue of public interest. The primary goals or objectives of the act include rulemaking, law enforcement, dispute resolution, supervision, licensing, information gathering, and initiating legal action against the accused. The Railway Accident, the Police Authority, the Departmental Inquiry, etc. are a few examples. The investigation’s primary goal is to investigate and learn the truth; administrators play a limited and inadequate role in this process.
Therefore, making inquiries and conducting investigations are crucial ways to gather information. The government needs this data as input for making policies. People can get knowledge from it as well. The Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, was passed by the legislature and gives the federal and state governments the power to form commissions to conduct inquiries into specific issues of public interest. This fundamental piece of legislation was passed under Schedule VII, Lists I and III, of the Constitution. The commissions of inquiry act allows the central government the authority to name an inquiry commission and conduct an investigation into any topic related to any of the items listed in Lists I and III. The Act gives state governments the authority to establish inquiry commissions and to conduct investigations into any other issues related to any of the items included in List II or List III of Schedule VII.
If it falls under its plenary legislative power, the central government may create a commission of inquiry to look into an issue that pertains to a state government; but, a state government may not appoint a commission of inquiry to look into a topic that pertains to the central government. A state government may not appoint a new commissioner to investigate the same issue where one has already been appointed by the federal government, unless the federal government has given its prior approval and the commission in question is still in operation, or if the federal government believes that the inquiry should cover two or more states.
History and background
Before the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, was ratified, the government used to issue executive orders, give notice under the Public Servants Inquiries Act, 1850, or create ad hoc bodies to issue orders to the public (committees made for a special purpose and after the purpose is fulfilled it gets dissolved). The Act covers practically all types of matters; it is not particular to any one type of matter. The Chagla Commission was established by the Indian government to look into whether the money from the Life Insurance Corporation of India has been used lawfully, and it is the first investigation to be conducted since India became independent. The government-approved technique was discovered to be cumbersome and flawed. In order to meet the constantly expanding need for public inquiries by the unbiased and independent authority. As a result, it was deemed necessary to draught an appropriate Act on the issue, which led to the introduction of the Commissions of Inquiry Bill, 1952, in Parliament.
Objective and Scope
When the competent government determines that it is necessary to do so, or in response to a resolution made by the Lok Sabha or a state legislative assembly, as the case may be, an inquiry committee may be constituted. A notice published in the official gazette will be used to appoint the commission. Government is required to appoint an investigation commission when a state legislative assembly or the house of representatives passes a resolution calling for one. However, no mandamus can be given to compel a government to appoint a commission in the absence of a legislative decision, according to B. Jaganathan v. State of Tamil Nadu. This is true because, in situations where a resolution is approved by the legislature, the act uses the word “shall appoint” (obligatory), whereas in other circumstances, it uses the word “may” (discretionary).
The issues under investigation must have a clear “public interest” and be specific, defined, and measurable. It shouldn’t be too hazy. The courts may get involved if the inquiries’ subjects (or allegations) are ambiguous or speculative. In general, the courts are rather liberal in supporting government action.
The goal of these investigations has been to gather information so that, in the event that any irregularities or issues are discovered, the government can take corrective legislative or administrative action. The circumstances under which the administration may launch an inquiry must be spelled out in the act, but doing so would serve little purpose if the grounds for doing so were stated in general or ambiguous terms. The control of such a power through a judicial action does not appear to be practicable, even on the extremely uncommon ground of mala fide, if the statute grants the administration broad authority to request an investigation without any restrictions or naming any grounds. The notification must include the commission’s duration’s duration. If it is absent from the notification, the flaw can be fixed by sending out another one.
Commission of Enquiry Act, 1952
This Act was created to provide for the creation of commissions to look into issues that are relevant to, concern, or have an impact on the general population. As long as Jammu and Kashmir is included, this Act is applicable throughout all of India. When a commission is appointed by the federal government and announced in the official gazette, only then does the act become operative. The act’s Section 2 defines a few terms that are used throughout the act, such as “appropriate Government,” which denotes that only the Central and State governments have the authority to name a commission to conduct an inquiry into any of the items listed in List I, List II, or List III of the Constitution’s Seventh Schedule.
It has also defined terms like commission, which refers to an investigation panel formed under Section 3, and prescribed, which denotes that only rules made in accordance with this Act should be referred to. Section 3 of the Act contained provisions for the commission’s appointment, while Section 4 outlines its authority. The commission is given new authority under Section 5. Section 6 deals with the provisions of the declarations made by the person to the commission. In this section, it is also said that, except in certain circumstances, the commission cannot compel anybody to reveal the items’ manufacturing method in secrecy. According to Section 7, the Commission may disband anytime it is notified. The process that the commission must follow is covered in Section 8. The protection of actions that should be done against someone who acted in good faith is covered in Section 9. Any member of the commission who is appointed must be a public servant, according to Section 10. According to Section 11, in extraordinary circumstances or whenever the need is recognized, this act is also applicable to other inquiring agencies. Last but not least, Section 12 of the Act empowers the commission to establish rules to carry out its objectives.
Main Provisions of Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952
The Commission of Inquiry Act of 1952 defines nearly 12 provisions, however only a few of them are significant. These are listed below:
This section, which deals with commission appointments, states that the competent government may name an inquiry commission to look into topics of public significance within the time frame stated in the notification by publishing a notice in the official gazette. Additionally, no state government may name a different commission to look into the same issue. The competent government may designate more than one member to the panel. If this occurs, one of the additional members should be chosen to serve as the commission chairman. In addition, the commission is required to submit the investigation report and a letter detailing the actions taken within six months of the report’s submission.
The Commission’s authority has been specified in this Section, which states that it has the same authority as a civil court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, with regard to the following matters:
- requesting, pursuing, and interrogating any person’s presence from any location in the nation on the day of the oath.
- matters that call for the production of any document or any kind of discovery.
- matters that are receiving affidavit-based matters.
- issues pertaining to requesting copies or public records from any court or office.
- issues pertaining to witness and document examination.
- or any other item that might be required.
Despite the fact that a commission of investigation has been given certain court-like authority, if it is not a court and its duties are not judicial. There may not be a disagreement before the commissions, which is one of the reasons for classifying it as administrative. These classifications are as follows:
- It only presents its conclusions rather than reaching any firm conclusions.
- There is no appeal available for its conclusions.
- It doesn’t follow the adversarial process and instead adopts a basically inquisitorial strategy.
The above ruling was made by the court in the case of Ram Krishna Dalmia v Justice Tendulkar, a commission of inquiry was established by the Indian government to look into and produce a report on the business dealings of a few Dalmia Jain enterprises, as well as any fraud or other irregularities committed by certain individuals who owned these businesses. The panel was also obligated to report on the steps that should be taken to ensure compensation, punishment, or to act as a deterrent in similar situations in the future. On many reasons, the commission’s appointment was contested. The top court, however, noted that there was no support for the idea that a specific matter of public importance had to necessarily mean something involving the public benefit or advantage in the abstract, such as public health, sanitation, or something similar. The actions of a single person or company(s) may take on a dangerous proportion and may adversely influence or threaten to adversely affect the public welfare, making such actions a clear matter of public significance that urgently calls for a thorough investigation.
However, according to the act, any commission proceedings must be treated as judicial proceedings for the purposes of IPC Sections 193 and 228. In Kiran Bedi v. Committee of Inquiry, it was decided that an inquiry commission qualified as a tribunal for the purposes of Article.
Additional powers of the commission are outlined in this section, which reads:
- The commission shall have the ability to demand any person or individual, or subject, to furnish such information as the commission may deem necessary or pertinent to the subject matter of investigation.
- No officer of a lower rank than a Gazetted Officer is permitted to enter a building for an investigation. However, individuals who are further up the ladder can visit any building or location on behalf of the commission and confiscate items under Sections 102 and 103 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1908 if they feel that any documents or books of accounts that are pertinent to the investigation are there.
- Any offence committed in violation of Section 175, Section 178, Section 179, Section 180, or Section 228 of the Indian Penal Code should be sent to the magistrate with the authority to try it after any relevant facts have been recorded or the accused has given a statement.
- According to Sections 193 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code, any proceeding shall be held to be a judicial proceeding.
The process that the commission must follow is covered in Section 8. Even though the commission has the authority to regulate or create its own procedures, some provisions nevertheless apply:
- The investigation shouldn’t be derailed by the cause of a commission vacancy or by any modifications made to the commission’s structure.
- If the commission decides at any point during the investigation that it is necessary to look into a person’s conduct or if it believes that a person’s reputation will suffer as a result of the injury, the commission must allow the person a reasonable amount of time to present evidence and a chance to be heard. Only when it doesn’t cast doubt on the case’s witness is all of this possible.
- The right to cross-examine a witness other than one who has already been presented by the commission is reserved for the relevant government or any other party with the commission’s acknowledgement whose testimony is being recorded can address the commission and ought to have legal counsel representing it.
Numerous amendments to the original Act were required because of its flaws, but they were made feasible by our country’s constitution’s flexibility. Over the course of 68 years, this Act has undergone more than five amendments:
- The Commissions of Inquiry (Amendment) Act, 1971 (79 of 1971)
- The Delegated Legislation Provisions (Amendment) Act, 1985 (4 of 1986)
- The Commission of Inquiry (Amendment) Act, 1986 (36 of 1986)
- The Commissions of Inquiry (Amendment) Act, 1988 (63 of 1988)
- The Commissions of Inquiry (Amendment) Act, 1990 (19 of 1990)
Status and relevance
An investigation committee is not a court. The commission has the capacity to conduct investigations, enact legislation, gather evidence, and issue recommendations, but it lacks a higher authority that can effectively carry out its recommendations. Even the reports or the investigation can’t be viewed as a judicial or administrative investigation; rather, it’s being used to carry out a supposedly administrative role. Otherwise, an officer in charge of a court of law could claim immunity, something the members of the commission cannot do.
A court of inquiry can be established even if certain cases are still ongoing in court, as was made apparent by the landmark Biju Patnaik case (P. V. Jagannath Rao vs. State of Orissa vs. Ors.). By acting in good faith and excluding statutory duties under the Commission of Inquiry Act, the commission of inquiry in this matter had nothing to hinder or interfere with the court’s authority. Additionally, the commission of inquiry lacks the authority to punish anyone for objecting to his actions or disobeying its directives. The commissions are only in place for a short time, and they don’t even meet regularly.
In this case, it was held that Courts won’t step in to force a government to prolong a commission’s term if it refuses, claiming that the inquiry they were given is still ongoing. The state government is not required to prolong a commission’s term when it expires.
The supreme court carefully examined government directives pertaining to the commission’s terms of mandate. In this case, the supreme court rules that a government’s subjective determination that it is essential to constitute a commission should be founded on true, objective information rather than only on a few hazy allegations or hearsay evidence, nor should it plan to conduct any fishing inquiries.
We have seen how the Commission of Inquiries Act, 1958 operates, including its intent when it was created, powers, procedures, appointments, present state, amendments, etc. However, despite the Act’s five amendments, gaps may still exist because there is no established permanent body in place. It seems necessary that a permanent body or organisations be there to integrate all the activities of the commissions in order to avoid multiple commissions and to have a uniform structure or procedure, similar to what happened in England when the inquiries act was passed in 1958 and a permanent body known as Councils of Tribunals was created.
The government of India should create a comprehensive set of rules that are applicable to all the commissions present in order to maintain uniformity in the laws as well as to help reduce or eradicate chaos among members and to foster a sense of belonging in the system, rather than allowing the central government or state governments to create rules for the procedure to be ratified by the commissions. In addition, no specific definition of “public importance” was provided in the act, which is something that should have been done because the term is so subjective in nature and can mean different things to different people. As a result, it is necessary to provide a specific definition of “public importance” so that we can quickly determine whether a given issue is of public importance or not. There is no longer a need for a special commission of investigation if France and Italy both have dedicated courts for handling administrative matters.
Since changes are frequent in a developing and growing nation like ours, the rules must occasionally be more stringent and occasionally more liberal to reflect these changes. Therefore, this need is met in some way as a result of the flexibility offered by our technology. However, surveys on the actual application of these laws show the opposite. It may be possible to achieve the system’s appropriate operation after putting these adjustments into place as previously described.
Author: Arryan Mohanty,
Symbiosis Law School, Nagpur/Student