With the Congress and the BJP sparring over the appointment of a judge to probe allegations of the Gujarat government spying on a woman, Union Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde Friday told The Indian Express, “The cabinet has cleared the revised terms of reference and a decision to name the judge who will head the commission has also been taken. The government will make the announcement at an appropriate time.” Names of BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi and his aide Amit Shah have figured in the controversy.
A Home ministry official said that after amendment in the terms of reference, there are six names under consideration. Sources said four of these are retired judges while two are sitting judges in Allahabad High Court. A final decision will be taken after consulting Shinde as the concurrence of the judge has been sought in writing and is still awaited, sources said. “Though the decision to set up the panel was taken before the model code of conduct came into force, we will inform the election commission about it,” said an official.
Law Minister Kapil Sibal also said a judge will be appointed by May 16. The government had decided on December 26 last year to set up the inquiry commission, but the process has got delayed, reportedly because of its inability to zero in on a judge. To make the inquiry non-partisan, the government had broadened the terms of reference and included phone tapping incidents wherein Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh was put under surveillance while BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s CDR was accessed.
At a press conference in Shimla, Shinde said, “The way the CM of Gujarat snooped into the life of a woman, I am really worried what will happen to the women of the country if he becomes PM.” The government’s move drew a sharp reaction from the BJP. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said, “They are trying desperately to get at least one judge to agree to head the ‘Snoopgate’ commission. I doubt very much if any of these moves is likely to succeed. Even if it did, the future government would be well within its legitimate rights to review such a mala fide last-minute decision of the UPA.”
“At this stage, when the election code of conduct is in operation, how is it legally tenable to take a fresh decision?,” Jaitley said. “There is already a commission appointed by the state government. The Centre has no right to form a commission,” Jaitley said. He also accused Shinde of trying to “manufacture an issue for elections”.