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Snoopgate: Centre may name judge, but probe unlikely before May 16

Even if the Centre appoints a judge to probe allegations of unauthorised surveillance on a woman in Gujarat, it is unlikely that it will be able to provide the necessary infrastructure for the inquiry to begin before the poll results are out on May 16.

The Union government announced last December that it would appoint a commission headed by a retired Supreme Court judge. However, highly placed sources say it now proposes to appoint a retired or sitting High Court judge, and two names from the Allahabad High Court are being discussed.

The sources told The Hindu that four retired apex court judges, approached by the Centre, had turned down the request to take up the probe. The judges apparently did not want to be seen as a tool of the UPA government in settling political scores with its opponent BJP and prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. The retired judges had told the government that they did not want a situation in which the Commission’s report, regardless of its findings, was exploited by political parties. This forced the government to amend its decision to nominate a retired apex court judge with a sitting or retired high court judge.

Legal experts feel that even if the Centre rushes through the appointment before May 16, it will be difficult to find suitable office/residential accommodation in the capital for the commission, supporting staff and its Secretariat. There are two dozen quasi-judicial tribunals, headed by retired judges, functioning in the capital. If a commission is appointed now, the inquiry judge has to be allotted a government bungalow in keeping with his rank.

According to the Union Urban Development Ministry, there are 32 bungalows allotted to Supreme Court judges and 45 to High Court judges. As there is no separate quota for judges appointed to tribunals, they are generally allotted houses from the pool reserved for judges. This has created a housing crunch.

In the recent past, at least two tribunals headed by retired Supreme Court judges were not provided infrastructure and accommodation for six to nine months, and the government faced the wrath of the apex court. Residential and office accommodation was given to them only on the court’s directions. And even if the government manages to provide accommodation to the commission before May 16, the next government can always review the decision and scrap the probe, say legal experts.

The ‘Snoopgate’ controversy arose when two websites — Cobrapost.com and Gulail.com — released audio recordings of purported telephone conversations in which Amit Shah, the BJP national general secretary and a close aide of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, is apparently heard directing the illegal surveillance on a young woman in Gujarat.


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 11:22:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/snoopgate-centre-may-name-judge-but-probe-unlikely-before-may-16/article5976238.ece

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