Another deadlock

Former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Prakash Man Singh, a minister in his cabinet, have been sent to jail after they refused to pay a bail of Rs 5 million each, as ordered on Tuesday by the Royal Commission for Corruption Control (RCCC), in a graft case concerning the awarding of the contract for the construction of the access road of the Melamchi drinking water project. Deuba told journalists that he would never deposit the bail amount fixed by the “unconstitutional” commission. He alleged that the action was being taken because they had protested against the February 1 royal takeover. Singh echoed Deuba. The four other accused — three officials and one contractor — however, said that they would deposit the bail amount.

Whether Deuba goes to the Supreme Court (SC) is not clear. But even the SC is unlikely to resolve the fundamental question he has raised about the constitutionality of RCCC, as it has already refused to register a writ petitition challenging the RCCC’s legality on the ground that no action of the King can be challenged in a court of law. And to appeal against the ‘unfairness’ of the decision would implicitly be recognising RCCC, and Deuba cannot do it and stick to his earlier stance. The agitating political parties have also refused to recognise its legality, and the Supreme Court Bar Association decided on Tuesday to boycott it on the ground of its ‘unconstitutionality.’ But all this is going to create another horrendous deadlock in the country, on top of several already there. And this will be in nobody’s interest.

The legality issue does not necessarily imply that the accused are innocent. But their refusal to testify will have repercussions at home and abroad.

If the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority had prosecuted, nobody could have challenged its legality. There is also another view that if it is legal for Deuba to become prime minister under Article 127, why is it illegal for the commission constituted under the same article to formally charge him and hear his case? The issue involves several legal and technical points which need to be properly addressed if the commission’s decisions are to be publicly seen to be free from political prejudice, to say the least.