Nanavati Report on Godhra tragedy

The much-talked about Nanavati Report on the Godhra tragedy is here. I am yet to read the report, but what I found was that a parallel inquiry held by Justice U.C.Banerjee, set up by the Union Ministry of Railways has been prevented from making its report public by the Gujarat High Court. The report has been submitted to the Railway Board in early 2006, but the High Court has restrained the Central Government from tabling the report in Parliament. This is despite the fact that the the Banerjee committee’s interim report presented in 2005 has been tabled in Parliament and has been in the public domain. The Union of India first appealed against the Gujarat High Court’s single Judge order staying the tabling of the report, which was later upheld by a Division Bench. The Governemnt appealed against the DB judgment in the Supreme Court, which also rejected the appeal without giving a reasoned judgment. More on this later.

ADDENDUM: My article here compares the Interim report of the Banerjee committee with the Commission Report on the cause of the fire.

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  • I co-authored this piece long ago, and not sure how much I agree with its contents now. It was written when the Nanavati Commission was instituted, and shared expressed Prof. Baxi’s worry that ‘momentarily distressed regimes have used this mechanism, with some success in order to provide the appearance of a short term rule of law oriented state action, which in the long term divests victims of any semblance of effective redress’. In hindsight, the worry seems vindicated.

    In any case, the main analysis in the piece is structural – arguing that ‘one reading of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 under which these bodies are constituted, is sufficient to show that structurally the state executive is inextricably linked to the commissions and that they cannot but be susceptible to executive control.’

    Who should one believe? Nanavati? Banerjee? Only if we had a robust and independent prosecution and a fast-acting judiciary, many of these commissions (at least those seeking to establish criminal involvement) would be unnecessary and fact-finding would be left to courts, as it should be.

  • My father, with all the cynicism that only a former bureaucrat with 37 years experience can summon, told me once that the conclusions of all commissions of inquiry are known in advance. On one notable occasion, he said the appointed head of a commission [a former bureaucrat and head of many public sector companies] asked directly “What conclusions are we supposed to arrive at? and then – surprise, surprise – arrived at exactly the same conclusions!

    While my father might be taking it a bit too far, he does empirically (if only anecdotally) confirm what you point out as a theoretical possibility: “the state executive is inextricably linked to the commissions and that they cannot but be susceptible to executive control.”

    Just out of curiosity, do you, or anyone else, know of any *empirical* work done on these commissions of inquiry? Some questions: How many of them are headed by former high court/supreme court justices or former bureaucrats? How long do they typically last? How much money is spent on average on them? How long before any action is taken? And so on and so forth…I am sure they will yield some fascinating insights into the workings of our political system!

  • One says it is a conspiracy, other an accident.Muslims attacked and caused fire but that was mob fury
    not conspiracy is another theory.
    We will never know the truth. Was there an attempt to abduct a girl or was it something else. Well it is a question of perception and whose evidence one is willing to
    accept. Many might have their version of what had happened on that day but what had happened in totality,taken all evidence together might not result in that truth with a big T. I am skeptical of the commissions and the debates because what one considers as truth
    depends on what premises and conjectures one accepts and which
    ones one doubts. Whom one wants to
    trust hinges on so many ifs and
    buts. There are many versions of truth that are floating around. Choose your pick and deny the rest is the name of the game.