Dehrdaun: Five days after a judicial commission headed by former judge of Chhattisgarh High Court, Prashant Mishra, submitted its report on the 2013 Jheeram Ghati Naxal attack, the Bhupesh Baghel government Thursday reconstituted the panel.
The Chhattisgarh government has now appointed Justice Satish K. Agnihotri and Justice G. Minhazuddin, both former judges of the Chhattisgarh High Court, as chairman and member of the commission, respectively. They have been given a six-month deadline to complete the probe.
“Tenure of the commission was over on September 30, 2021. Commission Chairman Justice Prashant Mishra was transferred and has taken over as new chief justice of Andhra Pradesh High Court. Therefore the state government has decided to nominate two new members in the commission” read the notification issued by the Chhattisgarh government Thursday.
The Baghel government has also expanded the scope of investigation adding three more points of reference for the reconstituted commission. These are — whether sufficient medical aid was provided to the victims after the incident in 2013, whether sufficient steps were taken to prevent repeat of similar incidents. The commission has also been empowered to decide its own course of probe according to circumstances.
Report incomplete, Baghel says
The Mishra-led commission had submitted its report to Governor Anusuiya Uikey on 6 November. Baghel, however, criticised the report, saying the report presented to the governor was against the established principles of the government. He said since the commission was set up by the state government, the report too should have been submitted to it.
The chief minister also said the report submitted to the governor was incomplete.
Speaking to the media Monday, Baghel had said, “What facts the central government wants to hide. Only a few people were summoned by the commission to testify while several of them failed to turn up. Why did the probe not focus on the conspiracy angle? Why were victims killed by their names and was it a political conspiracy?”
The Jheeram Ghati Naxal attack
On 25 May 2013, 29 people, including the then Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief Nand Kumar Patel, senior party leader Mahendra Karma, party MLA Uday Mudliyar, and former Union minister V.C. Shukla were killed in a Naxal attack in Bastar’s Jheeram Ghati.
The Congress leaders were returning from the party’s Parivartan Rally when their convoy was attacked by around 250 Naxals. Several security personnel were also killed.
Following the attack, a judicial probe was ordered and Justice Mishra Commission was set up on 28 May 2013 by the then Raman Singh-led BJP government. The case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) the same year. But after coming to power in the state in 2018, the Congress government had formed a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the attack.
‘No law bars panel from submitting report to governor’
Legal experts say the reconstitution of the probe panel is within the Baghel government’s ambit but at the same time, no law bars the panel from submitting the probe report to the governor.
‘The state has the power to appoint, dissolve or modify the commission or its terms of reference. The commission had in its last communication asked the state government for more time to complete the inquiry. The state government has acted on the same and divided the work as per circumstances. Circumstances included non-availability of Justice Mishra,” claimed Sudiep Shrivastava, senior advocate, Bilaspur High Court.
Shrivastava, however, said the submission of the Justice Mishra Commission report to the governor cannot be questioned on legal terms. “Besides convention or tradition, no law bars the commission from submitting its report to the governor,” he said.