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Gujarat probe on Delhi desk

- Note for cabinet moots inquiry into snoop row

New Delhi, Dec. 16: The Centre is considering a proposal to set up a commission of inquiry to look into the Gujarat snooping row in which a state minister was alleged to have ordered spying on a woman at the behest of one “sahib”.

Official sources said in Delhi that a proposal had already been prepared and would be put up before the Union cabinet “very soon”. A political source confirmed the proposal and said: “This is in the offing.”

The cabinet note was prepared after President Pranab Mukherjee forwarded to the home ministry a memorandum submitted by 44 women’s organisations.

The memorandum, submitted by a delegation that included the Mahila Congress headed by Shobha Oza, underscored the need for a probe into allegations that a woman’s rights were violated by the state machinery.

Although the Congress had demanded an investigation by a sitting or retired judge, the government is considering an inquiry by a commission.

Smelling trouble in the middle of a sustained campaign by the Congress which harped on the allegations for over a week, the Gujarat government appointed a two-member commission headed by a retired judge of Ahmedabad High Court, Sugnyaben K. Bhatt, and former additional chief secretary K.C. Kapoor as member.

This was viewed as a pre-emptive strike by the Gujarat government as a second commission of inquiry on the same issue cannot be instituted.

But the central government is exploring the option of tapping a provision in the Commission of Enquiry Act 1952, which allows the Centre to set up another panel if it feels that the scope of the probe should be extended to two or more states.

The Congress had claimed that Gujarat police followed the woman across the boundaries of states. It has been alleged that phones of the woman and that of her friends and relatives were tapped in Bangalore in Karnataka.

The memorandum from the women’s delegation to the President said: “Are Narendra Modi (the chief minister) and Amit Shah (then minister of state for home) entitled to use state police machinery beyond the boundaries of the state of Gujarat and in other states to conduct surveillance of a young girl, her friends and acquaintances?”

The Congress tried to portray the issue as a matter of public importance, linking the controversy to the larger question of women’s freedom. The BJP has been dismissing it as a personal affair of security being provided to a woman on the request of her father. The woman’s father had issued a statement echoing the BJP’s stand.

A commission enjoys the powers of a civil court and can demand production of any document and summon any witness.

If such a commission is set up, the UPA feels that the details that would emerge could sully reputations in the run-up to the general election.

However, a section of the Congress worries that any such move in the charged political atmosphere may boomerang and Modi will try to turn the tables on the Centre by accusing it of witch-hunt before the election.

Another factor that has so far restrained the government is the eagerness to find some sort of consensus that will allow Parliament to function.

The government is seeking to pass the Lokpal bill in the Rajya Sabha tomorrow with the help of the BJP. The relations between the two parties will collapse once a commission of inquiry is okayed.

The winter session, which has not seen any business so far owing to incessant disruptions over a cocktail of issues, still has four days and a lot of work left. Hence, the government may opt to delay any provocative decision for a few days.