In 15 yrs, Liberhan has run up Rs 71 lakh bill

New Delhi, Dec. 4: It pays to head a commission of inquiry for 15 long years. Justice M.S. Liberhan, the man who has been heading the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry for a decade and a half now, has been enjoying the salary and perquisites that go with his appointment for many years.

The total amount spent by the government on Justice Liberhan since the inception of the commission, appointed to inquire into the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, is Rs 71,53,000, it has been learnt by this newspaper after filing an application under the Right to Information Act. Of this, Justice Liberhan got Rs 37,10,000 as remuneration and nearly as much, Rs 34,43,000, as allowances. Then there is the 22-member support staff provided to the commission. All except one are on deputation/loan from the Union government and the money spent on them is no less than Rs 4,52,93,000. In simpler terms, it means approximately Rs 4.5 crores has been spent on the commission’s support staff alone.

All this information and more was provided by the Ayodhya section of the Union home ministry in response to an RTI application filed by this newspaper. While the government’s spending on the commission mounts, the country waits for Justice Liberhan to come up with his findings. At the time of the setting up of the commission, it had been expected to submit its report within three months. Union minister of state for home Sriprakash Jaiswal had told Parliament in late August this year that the government had, until July 31, 2007, spent approximately Rs 7.18 crores on the commission since it was set up on December 16, 1992. He had also said that the government expected the Liberhan report by August 31. But then came two more extensions, the last one on October 31 for two months.

With the home ministry proving to be an unsuccessful midwife to a baby that refuses to be born, the government’s expenditure on the commission has been rising by the day. Justice Liberhan gets Rs 30,000 per month as salary. This, as per the information provided by the home ministry, was Justice Liberhan’s salary when he retired as a judge of the Andhra Pradesh high court on November 11, 2000.

Until that date he had been drawing his salary as a high court judge but with provision for a travel allowance/ dearness allowance for his additional duties as the commission’s chairman.

So what does Justice Liberhan get now by way of perks, we asked the home ministry.

A house rent allowance "as admissible" is given "in lieu of rent-free house." In addition, the retired judge gets Rs 3,500 per month "in lieu of staff car at Chandigarh." The "compensation" for the staff car has been Rs 2,31,000 so far. This isn’t all. Justice Liberhan is being provided "200 litres petrol per month" and a travel allowance (TA) too. So far, the government has shelled out no less than Rs 3,22,000 as reimbursement of petrol charges to the retired judge. Another Rs 16,23,000 has been provided as TA.
Justice Liberhan "is not claiming any travel allowance from June 4, 2006 onwards," said the home ministry. Electricity and water bills have notched up an expenditure of Rs 3,39,000 for the government.

The commission’s report is sure to prove a political hot potato, given the nature of the inquiry. The commission examined several politicians during its sittings, among them late Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Kalyan Singh. Several senior bureaucrats and policemen too were examined.

The commission has also had its share of controversy, with the most recent one involving Anupam Gupta, the lawyer attached to the commission. Mr Gupta is reported to have stated some months ago that he wasn’t sure if Justice Liberhan would like to address Mr Advani’s role in the demolition.

Exactly 399 sittings over 15 years. Yet the commission, instead of giving its report, has been getting extension after extension. The last one, which came on October 31, 2007, was its 42nd extension.

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