India’s top court rejected the government’s bid to create a judicial commission to investigate corruption allegations in the judiciary, instead setting up a panel of five members to work on a national plan for corruption prevention and justice.
Instead of a public inquiry into allegations of corruption against top officials, the court instead decided to create an independent judicial review panel with five members.
The decision to leave out the mandate of a judicial panel was a reversal of a 2015 Supreme Court decision that had ordered the commission.
The court had also rejected the prime minister’s plea to create the judicial review committee.
The Supreme Court ruled in April that the appointment of the committee would be made by the government.
The government had then asked the court to consider the request and if it did not find that it complied with the constitutional requirements, it could set up the panel.
The Supreme Board of Direct Taxes (SBDT) , a government body that regulates the taxes paid by companies and individuals, was also included in the government panel.
The panel would have been the only judicial body under the government to be able to issue a court order.
“The decision was not made in the public interest,” said Rajeev Kapoor, executive director of the Public Interest Law Centre, a public interest law firm.
“It’s a huge blow to the public and the judiciary in India.”
“It is the government, rather than the public, that is under the constitutional obligation to look at corruption in the Indian judiciary,” he said.
According to the Supreme Court, the government had been trying to create one independent judicial commission since 2015, which had been blocked by the apex court in April.
The commission would have sought to look into all aspects of corruption allegations, including whether there was an effective public or political watchdog, how public officials are compensated, and whether the public can be trusted to scrutinise the institutions that regulate them.
The SBDT panel was supposed to report to the government by November, but the Supreme Board postponed its work until March, citing the high number of cases in which the commission had not completed its work.
The Supreme Court had then blocked the government from holding the meeting.
In May, a senior government official had argued that the government needed to take the decision to create judicial review panels out of public interest because it needed to create new revenue.
Kapoor said the government should not have delayed the panel appointment until after it had established a mechanism to pay for the investigation and the investigation report was finalised.
“There is no need to delay the investigation if there is a mechanism for the government,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
India’s Supreme court has previously ruled against a previous attempt to set the judicial commission up.
In 2016, the Supreme court had ruled that a similar constitutional provision was unconstitutional, as it had no mandate.
In July, the panel was created after the Supreme Supreme Court issued an order in 2016 that it was unconstitutional for the Parliament to create independent judicial panels.
At the time, the constitutional amendment was meant to curb corruption and the need for an independent public watchdog.