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Rights panel orders farmer arrest probe

Calcutta, Aug. 17: The state human rights commission today directed an additional director-general of police posted with the panel to investigate the arrest of farmer Shiladitya Chowdhury.

Shiladitya, who had questioned Mamata Banerjee on rising fertiliser prices at her Belpahari rally on August 8, has been charged with criminal intimidation and assaulting policemen.

The move is a departure from the commission’s usual practice of asking the police to investigate on its behalf. The commission, a statutory autonomous body, can only make recommendations. The government is not bound to act on its suggestions.

“Our investigating wing will probe Shiladitya’s arrest. Our investigators will submit a report within three weeks,” said Sourin Roy, a commission member.

The commission’s decision to conduct a probe by its own team of investigators headed by ADG K.P. Rao is being seen as “significant” by the government, Writers’ sources said.

“It seems the commission will launch an all-out effort to find out what exactly prompted the police to arrest Shiladitya. If its findings reveal that the charges against Shiladitya are not appropriate, the government may face another embarrassing situation,” an official said.

Four days ago, the commission had recommended that the government probe the role of the police officers involved in the arrest of Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra and his septuagenarian neighbour in connection with the circulation of clips of an Internet joke on the chief minister.

The panel ordered the probe into Shiladitya’s arrest following a petition by the state BJP claiming the charges against the farmer were false. A BJP team led by state president Rahul Sinha visited Shiladitya at Jhargram jail yesterday.

Mamata and two of her cabinet colleagues have hinted that Shiladitya, who had also accused the chief minister of making false promises to Jungle Mahal’s poor, was a Maoist. The police have so far failed to establish any link between the farmer and the rebels.

Shiladitya was taken away from the rally venue by the police on Mamata’s orders. He was apparently released the same night but picked up again two days later. A police officer, though, has claimed the farmer had fled during interrogation after his first arrest.

A rights commission official said a team would visit Shiladitya’s home in Nayagram and speak to his family. It will also visit the venue of the chief minister’s rally and speak to officers of Belpahari police station, where Shiladitya was taken.

A day after the state human rights commission’s August 13 suggestion of a probe into the cartoon case and recommendation that Mahapatra and his neighbour be compensated, Mamata had said without naming A.K. Ganguly, the panel head and a former Supreme Court judge: “I brought a very good person and gave him a post. Not someone from my party but someone a little neutral. But then what did I see — oh God, he has no clue at all! He writes as if he is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or the President of the country! Doesn’t even know what is under his powers; what his jurisdiction is!”

The chief minister had also said “what I see is that many verdicts are being delivered in exchange for money”.