The Commission of Inquiry Act of 1952 is a significant legislative framework for establishing commissions for inquiries. These commissions are primarily appointed to investigate matters of public importance and report various related methods. The legislation is vital in promoting accountability, transparency, and good governance within India’s administrative system.
Enacted post-independence, the Commission of Inquiry Act 1952, is a systematic approach for investigating matters affecting the public. The Act aims to establish commissions to inquire issues of significant public importance.
This Act was enacted to address national issues surpassing the capacity of ordinary justice or administrative mechanisms because of their complexity or controversial nature. The Act has been used numerous times to address critical concerns, including allegations of corruption, human rights violations, and major public disasters.
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Appointment of Commission
- The commission is appointed by the government. The state and the central government have the authority to establish a commission whenever they deem it necessary. Retired judges and experienced administrators may be part of the commission and can be one or more than one in number. The government specifies the terms of reference for the commission, outlining the issues to be investigated.
- As per Section 3, an investigation committee can be established when deemed necessary by the administration or upon a resolution passed by any house of the parliament or the legislature of state. The appointment of the Commission is formalised through publication in the government gazette. If the House of People or a state legislative body passes a resolution to create a commission of inquiry, the government must carry out such an appointment.
- Another commission can only be appointed to investigate matters for which a commission has already been appointed. The commission is required to submit an inquiry report within 6 months.
Powers of the Commission
- Summoning and Enforcing Attendance: A commission of inquiry can summon any individual for investigation. These individuals may include witnesses, officials, experts, or any individual who may possess knowledge of the matter. The Commission can summon them to attend headings or testify. Examination can also be done under oath, and providing false information can lead to legal consequences.
- Discovery and Production of Documents: The Commission can require individuals or organisations to provide relevant documents to the investigation. This ensures that the Commission has access to all pertinent information and can examine records that may not be readily available to the public.
- Evidence of Affidavits: In some cases, the Commission may ask for evidence to be presented as written affidavits. This measure can be helpful in cases in which an individual cannot be physically present; in such cases affidavits that are sworn statements and carry legal weight can be produced.
- Requisition of Public Records: The Commission can request to produce records and copies from the courts or any government office whenever required. This helps in obtaining the necessary information for the purpose of the inquiry.
- Issuing commissions: The Commission of Inquiry can also issue different commissions for the examination of the production of documents. They can request different bodies or individuals for a specific purpose and examination on behalf of the Commission.
The authority of the Commission under Section 4 of the Act to summon any individual as a witness is extensive and not constrained by governmental limitations. The Commission has the power to request any person, subject to any privilege claimed by that individual under any currently enforceable law, to furnish information about points or matters that the Commission deems relevant or useful to the subject of the inquiry. Sections 176 and 177 of the IPC establish a legal obligation for such individuals to provide this information.
When an offence specified in sections 175, 178, 179, 180, or 228 of the IPC occurs within its observation or presence, the Commission is treated as a civil court. It may, after recording the details of the offence and the accused’s statement, refer the case to a magistrate with jurisdiction over such offences for trial. The Commission has the authority to enlist the aid of specific officers and investigative agencies for conducting inquiries. It is also empowered to appoint assessors possessing specific expertise in any matter connected to the investigation to provide assistance and advice.
- The Commission possesses the authority to ask any person, individual, or topic to provide information on any issue that the Commission believes may be important or pertinent to the topic of investigation.
- No officer lower than the level of Gazetted Officer is permitted to enter any place or building for investigation. However, officers higher in the hierarchy may enter any building or place on behalf of the Commission and seize any document or book of accounts relevant to the subject matter of the inquiry under Sections 102 and 103 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.
- If an offence is committed under Sections 175, 178, 179, 180, or 228 of the Indian Penal Code, the matter should be referred to the magistrate who has the authority to try it.
- Under Sections 193 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code, any procedures are presumed to constitute judicial proceedings.
Procedure to be Followed by the Commission
Section 8 outlines the procedure that the inquiry commission is required to follow. The inquiry must not be halted due to any vacancy that may arise or any changes that may occur within the organisation.
If, at a certain stage of the inquiry or during the inquiry process, it becomes necessary to investigate the conduct of a specific individual that may harm their reputation, the committee should grant the person sufficient time to present evidence and allow them to be heard.
With the Commission’s authorisation, the appropriate government or any other individual whose testimony is being recorded possesses the right to cross-examine a witness whom the Commission has not previously presented.
They also have the right to address the Commission and should be duly represented by a legal counsel. Section 7 stipulates that the Commission can be dissolved upon notification.
The Commission of Inquiry Act 1952 is pivotal in ensuring accountability, transparency, and effective governance within India’s administrative service. This Act facilitates the examination of matters of public concern and significance.
The Act’s significance becomes even more pronounced in an era characterised by heightened public scrutiny and a growing demand for transparency. It grants both federal and state governments the authority to establish commissions of inquiry when circumstances warrant a thorough investigation into issues such as corruption, human rights violations, and major public disasters. Consequently, the Act serves as a safeguard, ensuring that matters of national importance are not overlooked but subjected to thorough scrutiny.
The sections of the Act about the appointment of a commission, their powers, and the procedures must adhere to underscore a commitment to justice and impartiality.
FAQs on Commission of Inquiry Act
What is the purpose of the Act?
The goal of the Act is to create an environment for the Commission to study topics of interest to the public that are difficult, contentious, and beyond the competence of ordinary administrative authorities to solve efficiently.
Who can appoint a commission under this Act?
Commissions of inquiry can be appointed by the state as well as federal governments when necessary.
What are the powers of the Commission under this Act?
The Act empowers commissioners to call witnesses, obtain documents, and even issue commissions to investigate specific areas of a case. They exercise authority comparable to that of a civil court.
Can a commission require persons to produce written evidence?
Yes, under some circumstances, commissions may request written affidavits as evidence. When physical presence is neither possible nor practicable, this practice is very important.
What happens when the commission's investigation is completed?
After the investigation, the commission is required to deliver a report within 6 months. This report provides findings, conclusions, and recommendations based on the inquiry.