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[Vikas Dubey Encounter] Allegations Of Bias Based On Unverified Newspaper Reports Liable To Be Rejected : SC Dismisses Plea Against Probe Panel

Radhika Roy
19 Aug 2020 12:56 PM GMT
[Vikas Dubey Encounter] Allegations Of Bias Based On Unverified Newspaper Reports Liable To Be Rejected : SC Dismisses Plea Against Probe Panel
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While dismissing a plea which sought for the disbanding of the Inquiry Commission headed by former Supreme Court Judge Justice (Retd.) BS Chauhan to probe the alleged encounter of Vikas Dubey, the Supreme Court said that it cannot accept unverified claims based on news paper reports.

The judgement was rendered in a petition filed by Mumbai-based lawyer Ghanshyam Upadhyay, praying for the Commission to be disbanded as there was allegedly "conflict of interest and likely bias" on behalf of the Chairman, Justice Chauhan, and former Uttar Pradesh Director-General of Police, KL Gupta.

WHAT IS THE BACKGROUND OF THE CASE?

In the aftermath of the alleged encounter of Dubey's five aides, Upadhyay had filed a plea, voicing his apprehension that Dubey would also be killed if there was no intervention on behalf of the Court. However, before the petition could be listed, Dubey was killed on the morning of July 11.

While the State of Uttar Pradesh claimed that the encounter had not been manufactured, they constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Additional Chief Secretary Sanjay Bhusreddy to investigate the rise of Dubey and the involvement of the police in his deep-rooted criminal network.

Further, the State Government had also constituted a Commission of Inquiry under the Commission of Inquiries Act, 1951, headed by former Judge of Allahabad Justice Shashikant Agrawal.

 It was on July 22 that the SC constituted the committee and appointed former SC judge Justice B S Chauhan to lead it, acting on a writ petition filed by Upadhyay.

The names of the committee members were proposed by the Uttar Pradesh government. Justice Sashi Kant Agarwal, a former judge of the Allahabad High Court and K L Gupta, for DGP of UP, are the other members.

Consequently, the suggestion of names for inclusion in the Commission provided by the Petitioner were rejected by the Supreme Court, and the newly formed Commission was directed to start functioning within a week of the date of judgement, and to submit a report to the Apex Court within two months as per the terms of the Act.

The instant plea seeking for disbanding of the Commission was then filed by Upadhyay, on the basis of an article published on 29th July in "The Wire", and it was claimed that Justice Chauhan had close connections with the ruling party of the State, i.e. BJP. It also averred that KL Gupta was related to the Inspector-General of Kanpur Zone, where the alleged encounter of Dubey had taken place.

WHAT DID THE SUPREME COURT SAY?

The Court, at the outset, has noted that the allegations pertaining to Gupta had already been raised by Upadhyay in previous Applications which had been dismissed on the ground that they were devoid of merit. Yet, Upadhyay had raised the same contentions in the instant Application.

Further, the Court highlighted that the "entire basis for making the allegations as contained in the miscellaneous petition is an Article relied on by the Petitioner said to have been published in the newspaper". Also, there was no other on record to substantiate the claims of the Petitioner.

Newspaper Item Without Any Further Proof Is Of No Evidentiary Value

It was held by the Court that allegations based on newspaper reports without any further proof had been repeatedly held to have no evidentiary value. In order to buttress this principle, the Top Court relied upon multiple decisions such as Kushum Lata v. Union of India (a Civil Appeal of 2006), wherein it had been held that "a petition based on unconfirmed news reports, without verifying their authenticity should not normally be entertained".

The Court then referred to the case of Rohit Pandey v. Union of India (a Criminal Writ Petition) wherein the PIL filed by a member of the legal fraternity was based on two newspaper reports, without due verification of the same, was dismissed with costs of Rs. 1000.

It was further iterated in the judgement that the Chairman and Member of Commission had held high Constitutional positions and, therefore, only relying on a newspaper report to substantiate averments was unacceptable.

Mere Allegations of Relations of the Chairman and Member Not Sufficient to Convey Conflict of Interest and Possible Bias

Additionally, the Court held that the allegation of relation of the Chairman and a Member to a legislator belonging to BJP and IG of Police (Kanpur), respectively, was not sufficient to come to conclusion that it would lead to bias as there was no indication of the nature of influence such relations could exert and whether they were in a dominant position.

Findings/Recommendations of an Inquiry Commission are Not Binding

The Bench relied upon a Constitution Bench decision in case of Ram Krishna Dalmia v. Justice SR Tendolkar (reinforced by a larger Bench in State of Karnataka v. Union of India [1977]) to support the point that an Inquiry Commission under the Commissions of Inquiry Act "is empowered merely to investigate, record its findings and make recommendations" and that these recommendations are not enforceable proprio vigore.

Further, in Sham Kant v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court held that "findings of the Inquiry Commission are not binding on the Court, while dealing with an appeal rising out of conviction and sentence of a police officer".

Allegations of Bias Must Be Tested Against Strict Standards and Reliance on Solely Newspaper Reports is Not Sufficient

The Court held that the allegations of bias against an Inquiry Commission must be tested against strict standards. A judgment rendered by a Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court was relied upon to state that in order to sustain a plea of reasonable apprehension of bias, "(i) there must be cogent, uncontroverted and undisputed material, and (ii) the court cannot go by vague, whimsical and capricious suspicion".

In this context, the Supreme Court held that "allegations of bias made by him (the Petitioner) against members of the Commission merely on the basis of newspaper reports and nothing more, are liable to be rejected outright".

Sufficient Safeguards To the Manner In Which the Inquiry Would be Held

The Bench rejected the submissions of the Petitioner with regard to reliance on Ranjit Thakur v. Union of India (1987) by stating that "the proceedings herein are not an inter se determination of legal issues between the parties but a fact-finding exercise". In doing so, it was noted that the Petitioner was an advocate who practised law in Maharashtra and was in no way connected to the incident which had taken place in Uttar Pradesh.

The Court further recorded that the report of the inquiry had been ordered to be filed in the petitions which had been filed before the Supreme Court. Also, the inquiry would be held in public domain and the Petitioner had been granted the liberty of participating therein. Therefore, it was stated that there would be sufficient safeguard to the manner in which the inquiry would be held, and the apprehensions of the Petitioner were unnecessary and were hampering the process of inquiry.

In light of the above observations, the Petition was found to be without any merit and the same was dismissed.

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