Nov. 27: Mumbai has done in a little over a week what Calcutta has been refusing to do for months.
Two police officers have been suspended and a magistrate has been transferred without explanation in Maharashtra, days after invoking a draconian provision in the information technology act to harass two young women.
The women were arrested and released on cash bonds for expressing their opinion on a shutdown on the day Bal Thackeray was cremated.
One of the clauses used to persecute them is clubbed under Section 66A — the same provision that was evoked by the police administration run by Mamata Banerjee to arrest a professor for emailing a joke that the chief minister later equated with an assassination attempt.
Section 66A, which makes it a crime for anyone to digitally send information that is “grossly offensive” or has “menacing character” or which causes anyone “annoyance” or “inconvenience”, has become a potent weapon in the hands of admirers of a police state.
The suspension of the police officer brought plaudits for Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan from Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju, the former Supreme Court judge who had heaped praise on Mamata but has not refrained from criticising her on similar issues.
Katju, who had once drawn a parallel with the Nuremburg Trials of Nazi war criminals to seek action against Bengal police officers who picked up a man for asking the chief minister a question at a rally, returned to the theme today while congratulating Chavan.
If the Chavan government marshalled the courage to act in the face of a public outcry — provoking the Shiv Sena and some lawyers to call a bandh in the locality tomorrow — the government in Bengal has not yet stirred.
The silence by the Bengal government is all the more stark because the state human rights commission, headed by a former judge handpicked by the new administration, had recommended action against the police officers and compensation for the Jadavpur University professor. The professor was arrested in April and the commission made its recommendation in August.
Disciplinary action was recommended against two officers — M.K. Das and S. Biswas — of East Jadavpur police station. Sources in the police said tonight that no action had been taken till date.
“I had come to know about the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission through the website. But I am yet to get any compensation from the government. So, I wrote to the Human Rights Commission on November 16, informing the commission that I am yet to get any compensation,” Ambikesh Mahapatra, the professor, said this evening in response to a question.
The Maharashtra government, too, waited for matters to quieten down a bit but not for months like Bengal did.
Maharashtra home minister R.R. Patil announced the suspension of the two police officers for applying wrong sections and disobeying orders of superiors. The officers are Ravindra Sengaokar, the Thane (rural) superintendent of police, and Srikant Pingale, senior police inspector of Palghar police station. The Palghar station had filed a case against Shaheen Dhada (21) and Rinu Shrinivasan (20) and made them write an apology on a complaint from the local Shiv Sena president.
Bombay High Court has transferred Ramchandra Bagade, the judicial magistrate who initially ordered judicial remand of the women and soon after granted them bail on a bond of Rs 15,000. No reason was cited for the transfer.
Legal experts had said earlier that the magistrate should have immediately dismissed the case and there was no reason to make the women wait, order the remand and then set a bond to release them on bail.
The suspensions have been politicised with the Sena saying the action would “demoralise” the police force. Sena leaders in Palghar have called a bandh tomorrow. The bar association of lawyers in Palghar has decided not to work tomorrow to protest the transfer of the judicial magistrate.
Patil, the state home minister, said state police would have to seek legal opinion before making arrests under the Information Technology act.
In a statement on chief minister Chavan, Press Council chief Katju said: “This is just to congratulate you on your strong step in suspending the police officersÖ.”
Katju said law enforcers could not seek shelter behind the excuse that they were following orders. “In the Nuremburg Trials, the Nazi war criminals took the plea that orders were orders and they were only carrying out the orders of their superior Hitler. This plea was rejected by the International Tribunal, which held that such orders were illegal, and illegal orders should be disobeyed, and consequently those found guilty were hanged.
“If a policeman is issued an illegal order by his superior (whether political or police) it is his duty to refuse to carry out such illegal order, otherwise he must be charged for a criminal offence, and given harsh punishment.”