In a big political gamble ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Union Cabinet on Thursday appointed an inquiry commission to probe the alleged snooping on a woman architect by the Gujarat government. The Centre used it powers to set up a probe ignoring the inquiry panel already set up by the Gujarat government two months ago to probe the charges of spying.
“The Cabinet has approved a proposal to set up a commission of inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, to look into the incidents of physical/electronic surveillance in the States of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi, allegedly without authorisation,” said a release issued after the Cabinet meeting here chaired by prime minister Manmohan Singh. The law ministry over the next few days will decide on the judge to head the commission and set up terms and references.
The commission will be asked to finalise investigations within three months coinciding with the Lok Sabha polls in May. The commission appointed by the Gujarat government is supposed to give its findings within three months by February 25.
The union home ministry had brought the proposal through a cabinet note, citing a memorandum by 47 women leaders forwarded to it by President Pranab Mukherjee demanding judicial probe into the issue. The investigation portal “Gulail” had released 39 fresh tapes and claimed the snooping went beyond Gujarat up to Karnataka. But the Cabinet note has not referred to investigate the Karnataka part of the surveillance.
Sources here said law minister Kapil Sibal and finance minister P Chidambaram gave a presentation in the meeting explaining how the judicial inquiry will fix Modi and help the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections. However, many senior Congress leaders outside the government were apprehensive of the timing of the Cabinet decision. They feared that the decision may even boomerang and allow Modi to emerge as “martyr”.
Dubbed it a politically motivated action, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley questioned the setting up a parallel commission “without any basis” when the Gujarat government had already appointed one. He asserted that it violates the federal structure of the Constitution and is “an affront to the states”.
Explaining the rationale behind decision, a top MHA official said since the matter went beyond the boundary of Gujarat, it was necessary to set up a Central panel. The surveillance undertaken in other states could not have been probed by the inquiry commission set up by the Gujarat government.