The Justice Vishnu Sahai Commission, which probed the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, has excoriated the police and social media but exculpated the state government. It raised questions about the utility of commissions to arrive at the truth. It held the disinformation campaign on social media responsible for fanning communal frenzy and observed that the BJP MLA Sangeet Som uploaded on YouTube an old video clip of the Pakistani Taliban to allege that two Hindu youths were brutally killed. Notwithstanding social media’s capacity to create mischief and the need to restrain it, the clean chit given to the state government and all senior officials is baffling.
Justice Sahai identified 14 causes for the communal riots but he has not indicted any ruling party leader or senior police officer, much less the chief minister or the state government. Whose duty is it to control law and order? The Justice RN Misra Commission, constituted to inquire into the massacres of Sikhs after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, exonerated the Union government and the Congress leaders. Justice Misra, then a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, departed from the well-established tradition of conducting proceedings in the open and decided to do it in camera arguing that the victims would be able to depose fearlessly as their identities would remain secret. He allowed a battery of lawyers who were anti-victims to bolster the proposition that it was not a pogrom but a spontaneous reaction to Mrs Gandhi’s murder and earlier killings of Hindus in Punjab.
Misra became the Chief Justice of India, and after retirement, the first chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. Later he went to become a member of Rajya Sabha as a Congress candidate. George H. Gadbois, Jr, wrote, “India is a land of commissions — a ‘commission culture’ was the term used by one Chief Justice of India. Commissions are a highly institutionalized tradition, a deeply ingrained feature of the political culture. The British made occasional use of judge-staffed commissions, but after Independence they have exploded in number. At any time dozens are functioning, providing many job opportunities for retired Supreme Court of India and high court judges…Not all commissions are established for noble purposes. Retired judges have acknowledged that some they headed were politically motivated, witch-hunts aimed at harassing political rivals.”
While it should be noted that there are many former chief justices who did not accept any post-retirement assignments from the government, finance minister Arun Jaitley has found it necessary to spell out the position that there is a need to regulate the conduct of judges as pre-retirement judgments are influenced by post-retirement prospects. But it is not specific to one party or one government. There is a need to impose a total ban on any post-retirement jobs for judges. This was proposed in the Constituent Assembly by Professor KT Shah who wanted to introduce a new article 193-A for imposing such a ban. However, the proposal was defeated. The first Law Commission, headed by MC Setalvad, recommended that judges of the higher judiciary should not accept any government job after retirement. Judges of the higher judiciary must not forget that their conduct even post-retirement is crucial to preserve people’s faith in the judiciary.
Sudhanshu Ranjan is a senior TV journalist and columnist. The views expressed are personal