Vohra Committee Report: Whistle-blowing in the wind?

Filed under Electoral Reforms

That the Indian reality has not changed but in fact worsened both in respect to political corruption as also criminalisation of politics was announced by the Vohra Committee report as far back as in 1993. Investigating the growing criminalisation of politics, the Committee chaired by the then Home Secretary N.N. Vohra exposed the growing networks of money, muscle and political power involving the political elite, bureaucracy, criminals and the mafia.

It recommended the setting up of an effective nodal agency to operate confidentially under the aegis of the Ministry of Home Affairs to collate and compile all information received from the various intelligence and law enforcement agencies of the Government.

In 1995 a joint PIL was filed by Rajya Sabha member Mr. Dinesh Trivedi, the Public Interest Legal Support and Research Centre and the Consumer Education Centre demanding public scrutiny of the Committee’s findings. On hearing the petition, the Supreme Court Divisional Bench (1997) decreed that the present nodal agency comprising senior bureaucrats may not be viewed by the public as “completely independent or immune from pressures of every kind”—one that cannot command the complete trust and confidence of the people. What was needed was “an all-powerful body which will have the means and the power to fully secure its foundational ends”, free from all political encumbrances and pressures. It should comprise of “trained investigators with distinguished records and impeccable credentials” with powers to carry out direct investigations and launch prosecutions in Special Courts, along the lines of a Lokpal or Ombudsman.

Taking cognizance of the political developments since, the Public Interest Foundation (PIF) filed an RTI application with the Ministry of Home Affairs in August 2010 seeking the status of action taken on the Dinesh Trivedi vs. Union of India (1997) Supreme Court judgement for the constitution of a high-level independent commission to follow up and monitor investigations involving the nexus referred to in the Committee’s report.

A reply was received from the CPIO in November 2010 mentioning the constitution of the nodal group by way of a government order pursuant to the direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, adding that a total of 36 meetings have been held so far.

Since the information provided by the CPIO about the status of action taken on the judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court was not specific, a follow-up RTI application was filed in January ‘11 seeking information regarding the date on which the nodal group was constituted and a copy of the order passed for its constitution as well as copies of the minutes of all the 36 meetings held by the nodal group till date.

A reply was received from the CPIO in February 2011 wherein it stated that “the information called for in the said application is not available in the section. Hence, it is regretted that CPIO is not in a position to provide the requisite information.”

An appeal has been filed against the decision of the CPIO in April 2011. However, it was disposed of on the grounds that “…as the nodal group deals with classified inputs and information and that such information is supplied by the Organizations which are exempted under Section 24 of the RTI Act read with Schedule II, copies of the minutes, as sought, enjoy immunity from disclosure. Further by their very nature, discussions/decisions of the Committee are covered under the exemptions of Section 8 (1) (g) and (h).”

With the long-arm of justice yet to charge-sheet and prosecute many those accused, the general public has every right to know what concrete steps have been taken by the Nodal Group to reverse the disturbing trends mentioned in the Vohra Committee’s findings and whether there has been compliance to the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s judgement in toto. Sixteen years have passed, and it remains to be seen whether the government will undertake another fire-fighting exercise or sincerely carry out the mandate given by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.

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