Justice Girish Thakorlal Nanavati is affable, but he never lowers his guard.
He speaks and writes in the strictest purview of the law. He gives the impression that he is a well-trained legal brain who can read and interpret Indian law with flawless accuracy.
He is a judge in the classical mould -- a conservative who dislikes a display of human emotion and modern liberalism while debating the law.
Justice Nanavati headed the one-man commission probing the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. His report, which was tabled in Parliament recently, generated a huge controversy and forced Minister for Non Resident Indians Jagdish Tytler to resign.
Since his report was made public, Justice Nanavati fielded all types of questions and told the media that not only was he displeased with their inquiries but was also disgusted with their penchant for sensationalism.
He dismisses most reporters by saying -- "you people don't study the subject before covering it."
The retired judge is 70 but remains active and is engaged in arbitration work. He is also heading a two-judge commission to inquire into the circumstances that led to the fire in the Sabarmati Express train in Godhra and the communal riots that followed in Gujarat.
He spoke at length to Managing Editor (National Affairs) Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi about his report on the anti-Sikh riots. An interview exclusive to rediff.com and rediff indiaabroad
You have got mixed reviews on your findings. The Sikh community has denounced it. The Congress is taking advantage of it by claiming that it is a confused report. Would you like to comment upon the sharp reactions that have come from various parties?
People's expectations were different. Naturally, as per their expectations they are trying to find out whether the report is as per their satisfaction or not.
If it is not up to their satisfaction they will naturally criticise the report. Those who are likely to be satisfied about it are either because it agrees with their views or think that it serves some purpose.
So appreciation and criticism follows after such reports. I never bother about it.
Did you expect such criticism?
I never bother to know about it and even now, I don't want to know about it. I am very busy in my arbitration work and I just don't have time to read comments.
My concern was to prepare the report and submit it to the government. I haven't read any comments or columns written on my report.
Eminent lawyer Fali Nariman has written that your inquiry is more like a fact-recording exercise than fact-finding.
The Commission is not an investigative agency in that sense. Commissions which are appointed under the Commission of Inquiry Act do have, no doubt, certain powers to direct that an inquiry be made for the purpose of collecting material but ultimately it is the material which is placed before the Commission that the Commission is supposed to examine.
Fact-finding can't be rumour finding! So all those rumours that were floating around Delhi could not have been the basis of my report. Only whatever material was placed before the Commission by way of evidence could have been considered.
The Commission did consider thousands of reports, thousands of registers maintained by the police department and also the affidavits which were filed by people and the police. After all, on the basis of such material, findings had to be recorded. To make everything transparent and open whatever important that was placed before the Commission is mentioned in the report.
Therefore, it has to be something like the fact-recording report. On the basis of facts reasons are given for the findings.
The Commission's findings and the Commission's reasons behind the findings are explained in the report.
Many of us were present on those nights on the streets of Delhi. After what we saw, we expected that you would give a severe blow to the perpetrators of those horrific crimes. Your report is too mild.
(Gets upset) I wonder why all those who claim they have seen the riots didn't appear before me to give me more evidence?
Some of them did appear.
Very few. Only two or three reporters appeared before me and one of them was found to be inaccurate.
Still, all those people who have witnessed the riots find your report very mild.
The report of any commission doesn't depend upon the feelings of a reporter or media or politicians or the general public. We go by evidence.
But even then, why is your report so mild?
It is not at all mild. I wasn't there to create a sensation like the media does. My job was of that of a judge.
I do understand the difference. Can you tell us about the limitations you faced while preparing the report?
I told you that before. The Commission had to go by the material placed before it. It couldn't go by rumours or views expressed by others outside.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while talking about your report, commented that the search for the truth has to continue.
Naturally. That's why certain inquiries have been directed by the Commission. Those inquiries have to be made by the agencies, which are equipped with manpower and are competent enough to make such inquiries.
You have got such a wide exposure on the issue of anti-Sikh riots. Do you think since you don't have powers to arrest anyone...
A Commission has no power to arrest anybody or convict anybody. Therefore, wrong expectations are there. People feel like this because they have wrong expectations. They have wrong expectations because they are ignorant about the law.
Do you have suggestions for wide-ranging changes in the Commission of Inquiry Act? We feel the report is not up to the mark maybe because you don't have enough of powers.
Ultimately a commission of inquiry is appointed to find the facts objectively. To place it before the government that appoints it. And recommend the government what it should do. Considering the nature of inquiry, you can't expect more from the Commission.
Besides being a judge you are also a citizen. What were your personal feelings about the carnage?
There are no personal feelings. I haven't seen the riots nor am I concerned with anything else. I was concerned only with my inquiry. I conducted it and that's all I want to comment.
What I meant was that while the inquiry was on, when you were trying to arrive at the truth how did you look at the whole event?
I looked at it objectively. There was no personal level, then. I had no personal interest in the matter.
Did it affect you at a personal level?
In no manner could it have affected me. A judge has to be objective otherwise an ordinary person could have been appointed.
Did you feel that enough evidence was not forthcoming?
No such question arises. In the course of proceedings things are produced before you. You find out what is present and what is not there and whatever can be obtained.
Various orders were passed to ask the police to bring registers and material. Whatever was necessary was asked for and whatever could be produced was produced.
My question is were you satisfied with whatever was produced before you?
Even if I was dissatisfied what could I have done? A commission of inquiry is not appointed for your satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
I am asking again, putting it simply. Did you have enough evidence to judge?
Enough? What do you mean by enough? These are all wrong questions and wrong expectations. Many people are ignorant. They haven't read the report and are criticising it. They haven't read the Commission of Inquiry act. What others think is not important to me.
You can't say Fali Nariman or lawyer H S Phoolka are ignorant of the Act.
I don't know why they made those remarks.
Mr Nariman has said your report is an action-not-be-taken-report. Mr Phoolka says that in spite of many witnesses against police officers you have remained silent on them.
These are their views, I won't comment. Whatever I wanted to say I have said it. Whatever was required to be referred to I have referred to it.
I didn't want to make a 2,000 page report, which nobody would read it. Annexures are there; anybody who is interested can refer to it.
You have been silent on the role of many police officers.
I think the next time a media person should be appointed as a judge otherwise it will never satisfy them!
I understand your irritation but...
Not irritation. All these questions are beside the point. The media should educate the people. Don't create hype without understanding the consequences. The media is trying to keep things alive, which should not be talked about any longer.
Photograph: Press Information Bureau. Headline image: Uday Kuckian