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It should be seen as a scandal that the Nanavati commission has been given its 21st extension.
The Nanavati commission inquiring into the Godhra incident of February 2002 and the riots that ravaged Gujarat in the following days has been given yet another extension, its 21st. The commission is now scheduled to submit its report on June 30 this year — that is, if it should break from form and actually deliver. It would not be controversial to say that if it does in fact press for an extension, there will be no surprise, and that in a nutshell is the scandal of panels formed under the Commissions of Inquiry Act.
An urgency had informed the constitution of the Nanavati commission within days of the Godhra fire, with the country still trying to come to grips with the savagery and scope of the violence as well as the role of the Narendra Modi government. Almost 12 years later, as the commission has acquired permanence, living from one six-month extension to another, the questions about the violence in Gujarat remain, but if the retired judges have any misgivings about their failure to deliver on time, they have kept them very private. The latest extension must be an occasion to address concerns about how commissions of inquiry function and how their terms of reference are set. Given that they are required to submit their findings within months, the expectation is that they would bring some quick and informed clarity within the terms of reference. Instead, it is a recurrent experience that the panels take an archival attitude to their task. For example, the Liberhan commission was formed within a fortnight of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 and was tasked with submitting its findings in three months. In the event, it submitted its report in 2009 — it took a report in this newspaper on its contents for the government to table it in Parliament.
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