Sunday, January 5, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Justice Phukan to head Tehelka panel
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 4
Retired Supreme Court Judge Justice S.N. Phukan was today appointed as Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry to probe into the Tehelka expose alleging corruption in defence deals, official sources said.

This brings to an end the two-month-old search by the government to fill the vacancy to head the Inquiry Commission on Tehelka expose after Justice K Venkataswami resigned in the wake of a controversy over his simultaneous appointment as Chairman of the Authority on Advance Rulings on Customs and Excise.

Justice Phukan, who retired last year as a Judge of the Supreme Court, hails from Assam.

Justice Phukan, who also heads the Assam State Human Rights Commission after his retirement from the apex court, is likely to take over as Chairman of the Inquiry Commission later this month.

Justice Venkataswami had resigned on November 23 from the Tehelka Inquiry Commission as well as Chairmanship of the Advance Rulings Commission after the Opposition in Parliament charged that his new appointment had compromised his position as the head of the Tehelka probe.

Soon after Justice Venkataswami’s resignation, the Law Minister had requested the then Chief Justice of India, Mr Justice G.B. Pattanaik, to recommend the name of a retired Judge of the Supreme Court to head the panel.

However, it did not evoke any response. According to sources, the then Chief Justice had consulted Justice Manoj Mukherjee and Justice K.T. Thomas in a bid to persuade them to accept the assignment but both refused to take it. Subsequently, Mr Justice Pattanaik wrote to the Law Minister telling him that no retired Judge was willing to take up the post due to the controversy whipped up by political parties.

However, Mr Justice Pattanaik told the government that it was free to choose a retired Judge as it was not mandatory for the government to seek the recommendation of the Chief Justice of India.

Then the Law Ministry started the search process in consultation with Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee.

UNI adds: Terming the appointment of Justice S.N. Phukan as the new Chairman of the Inquiry Commission into defence deals as “another round of charade and a wild goose chase”, Tehelka Managing Editor Tarun Tejpal today said his news portal would boycott further proceedings of the commission.

Reacting to the appointment of Justice Phukan, Mr Tejpal said in the past two years “we have fully cooperated with the commission headed by Justice K. Venkatswamy. Our lives are now consumed by the proceedings. We have neither the resources nor the desire to continue with the charade.”

He said the Tehelka had furnished all details, including the tapes, to the commission and there was nothing more to provide into the ‘fraudulent’ defence deals.

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