|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
The Rediff Interview/Justice S N Phukan
October 08, 2004
Justice S N Phukan (retired), chairman of the Tehelka Commission probing allegations of bribery in defence deals, was taken aback to read about the Centre's decision to wind up the three-and-a-half-year-old Commission and hand over the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation.
In an exclusive interview on October 7 at his office in Delhi, Justice Phukan told Associate Editor Onkar Singh that he would think twice before taking up another assignment of a similar nature.
Were you aware that the government was planning to wind up the Tehelka Commission?
I had no clue. I read about it in the newspapers like any other person. Even as we were talking, my secretary came back from the law ministry and told me that the government will be sending a formal letter to the Commission intimating its decision to wind up the inquiry panel, either later in the evening or tomorrow (October 8).
So the government is formally informing you after announcing the decision to the media?
Yes, that is the fact.
Isn't the handing over of the investigation to the CBI after winding up the Commission a kind of insult to the judiciary?
This is for the public to judge.
You are upset…
I would not like to comment on this question. I am a judge and judges have no emotions. I never applied for the job. I came here (to Delhi) reluctantly.
Why were you reluctant?
When my predecessor Justice K Venkataswamy tendered his resignation, I was sounded to replace him. At that time, I had settled down in Assam. I am the chairman of the Assam Human Rights Commission.
Hence, I took my time to decide. I consulted family members and relatives as well as friends in the judiciary before taking up the assignment. It was a difficult decision to take. I took almost a month to reach this decision.
I accepted the offer because the job had to be completed. Otherwise it would look bad. [Justice Phukan took over about two years ago]
Did you fear it would end this way one day?
No. I never thought that the Commission would meet this fate. The government set up the Commission and now it has taken the decision to wind it up.
Even three-and-half years after it was set up, the Commission is yet to complete the probe. Why?
A great deal of time was spent on determining the authenticity of the (video) tape. It had to be sent abroad for scrutiny. The process took over a year. I had no control over it.
What is the status of the probe now?
I have already submitted an interim report to the (United Progressive Alliance) government in which I have dealt with 15 defence cases. The hearings were held in-camera. Besides me, only the government counsel and the Commission's counsel were present.
More then 500 top secret files were part of the proceedings. In between, the Commission's counsel resigned and the new one wanted time to go through the files. Yet, I completed the hearings within six months of the first argument and then took another two months to submit the interim report, which consisted of 700 pages and included several recommendations.
The matter would have been disposed off in another six months.
Yes, of six months but got only three. Even in those three months, I could not proceed because the newly appointed government counsel repeatedly sought adjournments (to study the files).
Are you saying that the new counsel wasted time?
Was it a ploy to buy time while the government made up its mind on whether to wind up the Commission?
This question should be directed at the government.
How do you feel about this abrupt end to your work?
One good thing about judges is that they have no feelings. When I come out of court, I forget about it. The moment I leave Delhi this chapter will be over as well.
What have you learnt from this episode?
I would think twice before taking up any such assignment. As I said earlier, I already have too much work on my hands. I am looking forward to completing my responsibilities in Assam and other social work. My hands are full.
Would you say that this (the Tehelka probe) has unsettled your work in Assam?
No, because I have competent people looking after the work in the Assam Human Rights Commission. I will now go back and resume my duties as chairman of the state human rights commission.
What is the human rights situation in Assam?
Very good because at one stage, we had 4,000 cases to deal with; now there are just 800. Death in police custody is rare. Violation of human rights by public servants is not that serious.
When are you leaving for Assam?
I am waiting for my wife to come to Delhi and help me with the packing. We will leave in the next few weeks.
Image: Rahil Shaikh
The Rediff Interviews