The Gujarat High Court on Thursday rejected a Public Interest Litigation petition challenging the appointment of the M.B. Shah judicial inquiry commission by the Narendra Modi government to probe into graft charges against the State government since 1980.

A Division Bench of the High Court comprising Acting Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J. B. Pardiwala held the appointment of the commission as valid and constitutional, rejecting the PIL petition filed by Jamnagar-based journalist Gunvant Joshi.

The PIL was filed on the ground that the Narendra Modi government, through a State Cabinet resolution, constituted the judicial inquiry commission under the chairmanship of the retired judge, M. B. Shah, only to forestall the appointment of a Lokayukta to investigate the graft charges against the State government.

The PIL pointed out that the Shah commission was constituted even when the process for the appointment of a Lokayukta was in progress and the then Chief Justice of the High Court S.J. Mukhopadhyaya, now elevated to the Supreme Court, had recommended the name of Justice R.A. Mehta, also a retired judge, for the post and the Governor had sent the recommendation to the State government for necessary action.

The Shah commission was constituted under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, a few days before Governor Kamala Beniwal unilaterally appointed Justice Mehta as the Lokayukta on August 25 last year. It created a furore and the State government approached the High Court challenging the Governor's action. The commission was constituted after the State Congress submitted a memorandum to the President seeking her intervention for a probe into 17 charges of corruption against the Modi administration involving more than Rs. 1 lakh crore.

The Modi government, however, not only referred the Congress complaints to the Shah commission, but also authorised it to investigate complaints against all the State governments since 1980, including the Congress governments in the State before the BJP's uninterrupted rule since 1998.

The PIL claimed that the commission was constituted by the State government only to ensure that the Lokayukta, even if appointed at a later stage, would not have the jurisdiction to investigate corruption charges against the Modi government.

The Division Bench, however, ruled that appointment of the judicial commission was within the rights of the State government and the PIL challenging its constitution could not be entertained at this stage when the validity of the appointment of the Lokayukta itself was pending before the Supreme Court.