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The choice, the process, the product and the greed of retired judges to manipulate, make this methodology a dubious game. This committee-commission syndrome has its accommodative uses for defeated politicians and corrupt businessmen ready to buy a position at hidden prices. And whenever a vociferous grievance likely to damage a party in power has to be silenced, the strategy to save the criminal and the administration is to appoint a commission and then forget all about it.
As for the noise making masses a commission is opium. There are judicial commissions, ombudsmanic commissions, Human Rights Commissions, women's commissions, ad hoc inquiry commissions and myriad chameleon commissions. Of course, the Constitution itself has sanctioned a plethora of them; and other statutory commissions are a tribe on the increase. Committees are fewer but are escalating in numbers. Whenever the Government finds itself in a politically inconvenient situation, the remedy for the malady is a committee.
The appetite for committees and commissions grows since even bankrupt administrations guilty of culpable deviances can provide a cover, postpone the evil day and pack the committee or commission with pliable members. The difference between a commission and a committee is more verbal than real, more status-conscious than functional, more statutory than created by the executive.
There is no uniformity in nomenclature as, for instance, the Constitution Reform Commission, which is purely a creation of a transient ministry, and yet within it there are many committees not sub- commissions. A semantic serendipity is the Kerala Ombudsman for overseeing panchayats' functionalism. The demand for sitting judges as commissions to pull political chestnuts out of the fire is an abuse of judicial credibility and when the report is politically unfavourable it is buried and rejected or no fruitful action taken.
In short, committees, though less pompous, are often stratagems motivated by escapism or designed to achieve unholy objective through the decent device of committees. The Indian experience of commissions and committees has largely been an expensive futility, institutional illusion or rogue process as a cover-up to gain political or economic end or hidden agenda by the backdoor.
It is not my purpose to condemn all commissions or committees but to enter a caveat to use wisdom, statesmanship and concern for the nation's interests, dismissing political expediency and corrupt objectives, even a wee bit, when deciding on a commission or committee, choosing its composition, terms of reference and determination to take action on the recommendations. At this point, we may go back to the legacy of commissioner methodology and its history in pre-Independence India which constitute the four-volume work under review here.
The mintage of this instrument of plural member wisdom is British and its vintage belongs to the British Indian era of the early 19th century. Administration may become chaos in the cosmos unless policies are based on principles, governance is guided by democratic fundamentals and collective noetics of experienced persons leads lay ministers and mindless masses along correct lines.
The mental-moral and pragmatic processes must precede governmental action and relevant legislation. So no democracy can dispense with an antecedent expert examination because of the complexities and variegated ground realities of society; and that is the raison d'etre of commissions in England, and committees, called Royal Commissions with their roots in the regal regime at the beginning of the second millennium.
This instrumentality, as a sophisticated tool, came into frequent use in s. Naturally imperial India also had its share of such investigative bodies. The publishers have taken great pains and invested research labours in producing four volumes including quite a few of the important committees and commissions between and A boon for a researcher, rare material for a student of the comparative history of pre-Indian and post-Indian commissions and a valuable insight into the history and policy of British rule in Viceregal times.
The very concept of commissions and committees has merits, if wisely used, and has demerits and deceptions if misused with mala fides. Anyway free India is a slave to the commission opium. Popular clamour for judicial enquiry even for tremendous trifles is another folly which delays and defeats regular legal proceedings and benefits the commissioner judge if he is indolent or retired, and what is worse, the villain will gain from the delay since evidence will evaporate. The dilatory report may or may not be published at the pleasure of the government or acted upon according to its mood or interest.
The report is not even probative material in a civil or criminal court. In short, commissions and committees are a gamble if freedom of information for the public is defeated or distorted save in a few exceptional cases. Let us look at the British Indian experience from to covered by the four volumes divided into four periods. The Whigs, when in power in British politics, stood for limited monarchy, liberal parliament and social values.
They were willing to experiment with commissions and committees at home and in India. Royal Commissions galore secured access to British India and facilitated better understanding of the impact of the alien administration on the people. Two important committees, whose findings are included in the first volume are significant.
Since imperial security had high priority, the two committees were concerned with prison discipline and jail conditions The rebellion of , a shock to the foreign rulers, led to the Special Ordinance Commission The Fainine Commission and two Commissions on salt manufacture and allied issues are purposeful.
Alas, even today, prison justice, salt supplies, famine, health and education are pathetic problems. Time stands still, suffering persists and pachydermic rulers are comfortable.
The rationale behind these enquiries is simple. Maladies must be diagnosed before remedies are prescribed and then alone will administrative action help. Imperialism did not believe in soft justice. Even so, it is informative to go through the terms of reference, recommendations and other contents which present the horror of punitive processes, with a touch of humanity here and there.
We too had a National Jail Reforms Commission but, in pensive mood, I feel that we have hardly done justice to that and other reports on custodial justice. Incarceratory humanism has miles to go if jail realism is to keep faith with the Constitution. The author in an instructive introduction observes: This issue should be debated thoroughly and the need for some mandatory status being given to the recommendations of Commissions and Committees has to be highlighted forcefully.
Legislation to this effect is indeed a desirable step, but that does not seem to be very easy to achieve. In independent India itself where an open and democratic system of governance exists, the voice of the people particularly the exhortations of the Press to the government to implement recommendations of its Commissions and Committees from time to time, such implementation is found to be often not complied with.
And, one can imagine, what degree of arbitrariness might be associated with picking and choosing of recommendations for implementation by an alien government governing India in case some of the recommendations of an investigating body were unpalatable to the foreign rulers. Oscar Wilde's lines on prison life are good for the new Indian millennium: And what was dead was Hope''.
The truth is that the British meant business when Royal Commissions were set up but Indian rulers rarely took commissions seriously or set them up to escape opposition criticism or public anger.
The gap between intentions and actions, vis-a- vis commissions, if closely studied over the years, revealed how implementation lagged behind the professed objectives. Even Parliamentary Commissions in India, when tested on the touchstone of action taken, had a sorry tale to tell.
Chishti, in his illuminating opening, explains the nuances of distinction between committees and commissions, which, I consider, has no uniform application but does help know the scope and status of these enquiries. They were appointed to know the lacunae in the administration of the country by the British, particularly after a firm notice had been served on the British masters of India by the rebellious Indians in Only after detecting the shortcomings, the loose ends could be tightened, be they in the management of prisons, the operation of the penal code, sale of and tax on salt, the famines that could be the cause of unrest, different areas of the economy, the crucial sector of education, the conditions in the matter of narcotics, or even tackling health issues like plague, kala-azar or leprosy where success could create favourable public opinion about the alien government among the people, at least in the consequential urban areas.
So I compress the review but remind the reader that rare material, rarer marshalling and rarest of all, presenting the essential parts of the anatomy of each report, hard to get even for an industrious research, are packed into the pages without hiking the price. What a Vistaramas; admirable and Imperial history from a different angle!
I endorse Chishti's concluding expectations: But in our era of bibliophobia reading is of low priority unless it be linked to pornos, casteist mythos or narco-thanatos. Portrayal of violence Next: