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Commission of Inquiry

To enable the administration to discharge effectively the multifarious functions entrusted to it, it needs to exercise broad powers of conducting the investigations and inquiry into various matters. The primary purpose of this technique is to collect information with a view to decide upon a further course of action to meet a given situation, or to find correctives to a given problem.

The policy maker or the administrator can initiate effective remedial measures to deal with specific problems only when he is in full possession of the relevant information, facts and figures and to collect these, inquiries and investigations become an inevitable tool in the hands of administrators.

Inquiries and investigations are thus important methods of acquiring information. Such information is needed as feedback for policy making by the government. It is also a source of information for people. Parliament enacted the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952, which authorises the central and state governments to appoint inquiry commissions to make inquiries in the definite matters of public importance. This is a central legislation enacted under the constitution, Schedule VII, List I and III.

The commissions of inquiry act gives powers to the central government to appoint a commission of inquiry, to make inquiry into any matter relatable to any of the entries enumerated in List I and III. The Act empowers the state governments to appoint inquiry commissions, to make inquiry into any other matter relatable to any of the entries enumerated in List II or III of Schedule VII.

The Central government can appoint a commission of inquiry to inquire into a matter falling within the purview of a state government if it falls within its plenary legislative power, but a state government cannot appoint a commission of inquiry, to inquire into matters falling within the purview of the central government. Where any commission has been appointed to inquire into a matters by the central government, no state government shall, except with the central government prior approval, appoint another commissioner to inquire into the same matter, so long as the commission appointed by the central government is functioning, or unless the central government is of the opinion that the scope of the inquiry should be extended to two or more states.

Appointment object and scope
An inquiry commission can be appointed by an appropriate government  when it is of the opinion that it is necessary so to do, or if a resolution is passed by the house of people (lok sabha) or a state legislative assembly as the case may be (Section 3). The appointment of the commission is to be made by a notification in the official gazette. Where a resolution of the house of people or of a state legislative assembly is passed asking for the appointment of a commission of inquiry, government is bound to make such appointment.

In B. Jaganathan v State if T.N: However no mandamus can be issued to compel a government to appoint a commission where there is no resolution of legislature. It is so because the act uses the word shall appoint (mandatory) where a resolution is passed by the legislature, whereas it uses the word may (discretionary) in other cases.

 Matters to be inquired into must be definite public importance and must be determinate, distinct, and precise. It should not be vague. If the matters (or charges) to be inquires into are vague or speculative, the courts may intervene. On the whole, the courts are extremely liberal in upholding the action of the government.

  1. The purpose of these inquiries has been to ascertain facts so that if any malpractices or problems are revealed, corrective legislative or administrative action, may be taken by the government.
  2. It is necessary to lay down in the statute the circumstances when the administration may initiate an inquiry, but much of the purpose of doing so would be frustrated if ground for initiating inquiries are laid down in broad or vague language.
  3. If the statute confers a blanket power on the administration to order an investigation without any restriction or mentioning any ground, then the control of such a power through a court action does not appear to be feasible except on the rare ground of mala fide.
  4. Period of duration of a commission must be stated in the notification. If the notification does not contain it, the defect can be cured by issuing another notification.

Siliguri Municipality v Amalendu Das:

Where a government refuses to extend duration of a commission, courts do not intervene to compel it to do so, on the ground that the investigation entrusted to it is not over. Where the term of a commission expires, state government is not bound to extend the duration.

State of MP v Arjun Singh:

The supreme court made a close scrutiny of government orders regarding determination of the terms of reference of the commission. Here, the supreme court states that a government's subjective satisfaction, that it is necessary to appoint a commission, should be based on objective  and real material and not merely on some vague allegations or hearsay evidence, nor should it intend for nay fishing inquiry.

Inquiry into definite matters of public importance

This phrase is of wide importance and enables the government to launch inquiries practically into any matter. Accordingly inquiries into varied subject matters have been undertaken under the act e.g. railway accidents, the state of the press in India and its present and future lines of development, causes of food contamination, economic irregularities and fraud committed by certain persons managing the affairs of industrial companies, emergency excesses etc. The most common subjects for appointing inquiry commissions are railway accidents, police firings and the misuse of powers by the ex-ministers.

In Ram Krishna Dalmia v Justice Tendolkar:

The government of India appointed a commission of inquiry to enquire into and report on some affairs of some Dalmia Jain companies, and acts of fraud and irregularities  of certain persons who controlled these companies. The commission was further required to report the action which should be taken as and by way of securing redress or punishment or to act as a preventive in future cases. The appointment of commission was challenged on a number of grounds. But the supreme court observed that we se no warrant for the proposition that a definite matter of public importance must necessarily mean only some matter involving the public benefit or advantage in the abstract e.g. public health, sanitation or the like. The conduct of an individual person or company(s) may assume such a dangerous proportion and may so prejudicially effect or threaten to affect the public well-being as to make such conduct a definite matter of public importance urgently calling for a full inquiry.

Powers of commission

A commission of inquiry has powers of a civil court are:
  1. summoning and enforcing attendance of any person from any part of India and examining her on oath.
  2. requiring discovery and production of nay document.
  3. receiving evidence on affidavits.
  4. requisitioning any public record or copy thereof from any court or office.
  5. issuing commissions for the examinations of witnesses or documents and
  6. any other matter, which may be prescribed.
The commissions powers under Section 4 of the Act to call upon any person to appear as a witness in terms is very wide and is not circumscribed by fetters of state. A commission has power to require any person, subject to any privilege which may be claimed by that person under any law for the time being in force, to furnish information on such points or matters as in the opinion of the commission, may be useful for, or relevant to, the subject matter of the inquiry. That persons is deemed to be legally bound to furnish such information within the meaning of sections 176 and 177 of IPC.

A commission is deemed a civil court when any offence, to described in section 175, 178, 17, 180 or 228 of IPC, is committed in its view or presence. It may, after recording the facts of the offence and statement of the accused, forward the case to a magistrate having a jurisdiction to try those offences. A commission has the power to utilise services of certain officers and investigation agencies for conducting investigations pertaining to inquiry. It has also been given powers to appoint persons having special knowledge of nay matter connected with inquiry as assessors, to assist and advise it.

Quasi judicial functions

Although a commission of inquiry has been given powers of a court for some purposes, if it is not a court and its functions is not judicial (Ram Krishna Dalmia v Justice Tendulkar). The reasons for holding it to be a administrative are:
  1. there may not be any dispute before the commissions.
  2. it does not decide anything conclusively but merely gives its findings.
  3. there is no appeal against its findings.
  4. it does not follow the adversary procedure but is essentially inquisitorial in its approach.
The act however says that any proceedings of a commission shall be deemed judicial proceedings within the meanings of Section 193 and 228 of IPC.

It was held in Kiran Bedi v Committee of Inquiry that a commission of inquiry was a tribunal for the purpose of Article.

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