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March 17, 1999
ASSEMBLY POLL '98
Government apathy stymies judicial probe into Staines' murder
George Iype in New Delhi
More than six weeks after the government appointed Justice D P Wadhwa to inquire into the killings of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, the one-man Commission has been forced to postpone his sittings due to bureaucratic reasons.
Despite repeated reminders, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has not yet readied an office for Justice Wadhwa, a sitting Supreme Court judge.
Though the government has sanctioned Rs 1 million as advance for meeting the Commission's expenditure, the money has been left untouched, as it does not have a bank account. A bank account can be opened only after the government issues a formal notification appointing D G R Patnaik as secretary to the Commission.
Angry at the government's attitude, the Wadhwa Commission has submitted a detailed note to the Union home ministry, stating that the government has placed the Commission "in a position of embarrassment."
'There has been no adequate or serious attempt on the part of the government to appreciate the keenness, sincerity and intensity with which the Commission wished to proceed,' the note says.
Stating that the government's conduct is "plainly unsatisfactory and inadequate," it said "such a response tends to impinge on the dignity and majesty of the judiciary".
Taken aback by Justice Wadhwa's attack on the government, the ministry has quickly started to provide him with the infrastructure to conduct the proceedings. The government has allocated Room No 319 in Vigyan Bhavan Annex for the judge. This and other rooms for the Commission are being furnished.
Home ministry officials said it will take at least 10 days for the work to be completed .
Officials cited two reasons for the delay. First, they say, the requirements of the Commission, which is expected to complete its report in two months "have been large and unprecedented."
"Justice Wadhwa asked for a huge number of staff, office rooms, telephone and Internet connections and even video conferencing facilities which the government could not provide overnight," a home ministry official told Rediff On The NeT.
Secondly, he said, the ministry initially allotted office space to Justice Wadhwa at Bikaner House. But the Commission rejected it, stating that since this was located alongside a public bus stand, it could not be used for Justice Wadhwa's sittings.
While the Commission asked for space at the Vigyan Bhavan Annexe, the home ministry could not readily make it available as it had not refurbished the huge office left behind by the Justice M C Jain Commission that inquired into the conspiracy aspects of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.
But Justice Wadhwa, who has held a couple of sittings at his home in Delhi, has refused to listen to the government's clarification. His note to the ministry states that there has been 'a distinct lack of perception on the part of the central government of the seriousness of the task before the Commission.'
The Commission pointed out two instances of government inaction. First, the Commission had informed the home ministry that a team of officials headed by Secretary Patnaik and its counsel Gopal Subramanium would visit Bhubaneswar and Manoharpur on February 17.
It requested the ministry to book their air tickets and provide them with security. On the appointed day, the two Commission officials had to cancel their visit as the ministry had failed to book their tickets.
Secondly, on February 16, Subramanium and Patnaik discussed with the ministry the need to constitute a team of investigating officers drawn from the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Intelligence Bureau. CBI Joint Director N Balachandran was asked to give a list of officers along with their dossiers to enable the Commission to select the team.
Though the CBI and home ministry officials promised to supply the names within a day or two, it has not yet been done.
While the government is now busy providing Justice Wadhwa with an office, the Commission has informed the government it will start work only after a full-fledged office is made available.
Australian minister 'appalled' at missionary's murder
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