The Kerala government has appointed PS Antony to conduct the judicial inquiry into allegations that former Minister AK Saseendran forced a woman to have a sexually explicit phone conversation with him.
The audio clip of the conversation was aired by the newly launched Mangalam channel on Sunday, in its very first bulletin. Within hours, Saseendran had announced his resignation. While many reports suggest that the audio clipping was a ‘honey trap’, and not non-consensual as the channel had claimed, legal experts have questioned the relevance of the judicial probe. Considering there is no complainant in the case - the audio clip aired by Mangalam did not have the voice of the woman, and no one has come forward to file a complaint so far - will a judicial inquiry into the issue be effective?
As per the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1952 a judicial commission should be appointed when there is a matter of public importance, says advocate Kaleeswaram Raj. The Saseendran case, however, cannot be considered as an issue of public importance, Kaleeswaram says. “In fact, the taping of the phone conversation is an intrusion of privacy of the former Minister,” he adds. In the past judicial commissions have been appointed in cases of corruption or communal violence. “The Nanavati Commission, for example, was appointed to probe into the killing of Sikhs,” he points out.
It’s important to note that neither the government nor the Legislative Assembly is not bound to act upon the report. “The report can simply be rejected. In this case it’s simply an attempt at eyewash,” Kaleeswaram Raj adds. Senior counsel Cherunniyoor P Sasidharan Nair however disagrees on that point. While he is skeptical about this inquiry since there is no complainant, Nair says that judicial commissions have been effective in the past.
Nair was a member of the judicial commission that probed the sexual harassment complaint against former Minister Neelalohithadasan Nadar, filed by IAS officer Nalini Netto. “But in the Saseendran case, there is no complainant or accused. It’s a mere fact finding commission. It has to be seen how effective the inquiry in this specific case will be, as the woman in the alleged conversation hasn’t come forward with any complaint,” he says.
“In the audio aired by Mangalam, the conservation sounds consensual. There is no allegation of sexual abuse or harassment. There has been no allegation against Saseendran of making sexual advances towards women,” Nair adds. “If he was engaged in an explicit conservation, it’s an issue of morality only. There is nothing illegal in it,” he says. Advocate Udaya Bhanu CP meanwhile says that a police investigation would have been more effective than a judicial probe in the matter.
“If we examine the history judicial inquiries so far, it can be seen that not one of them was effective enough to find a culprit in a case. It all depends on the Terms of Reference - the list of specific matters to be evaluated by the commission, the individuals involved and the sincerity of the probe,” he says. “In this specific case, there is every possibility that he was trapped,” he adds.