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No action? Why commission?

- State objects but court allows petition on joke arrest

Calcutta, Feb. 7: The chief justice of Calcutta High Court today overruled the Bengal government’s objections and allowed a petition demanding action against police officers who had arrested a Jadavpur University professor for circulating an Internet joke that featured the chief minister.

The petition asked why the government had failed to act on the state human rights commission’s recommendations suggesting payment of damages to Ambikesh Mahapatra and his septuagenarian neighbour besides action against the police officers.

Chief Justice A.K. Mishra told a government pleader: “If the recommendations are not to be obeyed by the state government, what is the commission there for?”

“You file a fresh petition,” Chief Justice Mishra told Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, senior advocate and former Calcutta mayor.

The chief justice’s statement came after the government pleader contended that a human rights commission’s recommendations could not be binding on the state government.

“State governments are not bound to implement the human rights commission’s recommendations. It is the discretion of the government whether it will implement the recommendations or not,” additional government pleader Tapan Mukherjee said.

But the division bench of Chief Justice Mishra and Justice Jaymalya Bagchi demurred.

“This is not acceptable,” the chief justice said. “In other states, the government treats the human rights commission’s recommendations with respect. Can you cite another instance where a man has had to move the high court because the state government has refused to obey the commission’s recommendations?”

The government lawyer looked stunned.

Although the state human rights commission is headed by retired Supreme Court judge Ashok Kumar Ganguly, who was picked by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the government had refused to act on the recommendations. A day after the commission issued its recommendations in August last year, Mamata had referred to Justice Ganguly as “a very good person” but added that he “doesn’t know what is his jurisdiction, his authority”.

Former mayor Bhattacharyya had withdrawn a public interest litigation (PIL) after the state human rights commission recommended departmental proceedings against the police personnel who had picked up the teacher and his neighbour around midnight. The commission’s recommendation in August last year also proposed Rs 50,000 each as damages to Mahapatra and Subrata Sengupta, a 72-year-old engineer.

Initially, the police charged Mahapatra under Section 66A of the IT Act (sending false and offensive messages through electronic communication devices) and Section 500 of the IPC (defamation). But in the chargesheet, the defamation charge was dropped and only the one under the IT Act was retained. The court has yet to frame the charges.

On August 13, the rights commission issued a suo motu order asking the state to compensate the professor and his neighbour and initiate action against Milan Kumar Das, the additional officer in charge of East Jadavpur police station, and sub-inspector Sanjay Biswas, who had gone to the housing complex to arrest the two following a phone call by a local Trinamul leader.

Bhattacharyya’s earlier PIL became infructuous after the commission ordered action against the police personnel. He wanted to file a fresh appeal today demanding action against the accused policemen.

“You don’t need a human rights commission if the state doesn’t pay heed to it. It is a mockery of democracy that the state sets up a commission and then reduces it to a redundant institution,” a retired high court justice had earlier told this newspaper.


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