Calcutta, Feb. 22: A “routine” note from the Prime Minister’s Office and a “routine” response by a state government department may have landed the Mamata Banerjee government in a not-so-routine situation.
The PMO had written to the Bengal government asking it to take necessary action in response to a petition by Jadavpur University teacher Ambikesh Mahapatra, sources said.
The teacher had sought the PMO’s intervention to make the Bengal government honour recommendations by the state human rights panel and drop the criminal charges brought against him for circulating an Internet joke on the chief minister.
In response to the PMO letter dated December 18, 2012, a state government official requested another wing of the government on February 11 to “take an immediate redressive action”.
In bureaucratic parlance, “redressive action” would mean following the steps suggested by the panel. In this specific case, the rights panel had recommended action against two police officers for arresting the teacher and his neighbours and compensation for the victims.
The government has so far been sitting on the rights panel’s recommendations. Accepting them would mean undermining the stand taken by the chief minister who has seen in the Internet post a sinister threat.
Mahapatra’s letter to the PMO also sought its intervention to drop the dreaded Section 66A from the charges levelled by the police.
The government has given no indication of a change of mind till now. Neither would any senior official in the personnel and administrative reforms department, which opted for the routine “redressive action” phrase, hazard a guess if any change is round the corner.
But by putting on record a commitment to “immediate redressive action”, the government appears to have left a flank unguarded.
Advocate and former mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya, who has been allowed by the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court to file a petition on the subject despite objections from the state government, did not miss the opening.
“In this case, ‘immediate redressive action’ should mean immediate departmental proceedings against the police officers (additional officer-in-charge Milan Kumar Das and sub-inspector Sanjay Biswas), payment of compensation and dropping the charge under the IT Act,” Bhattacharyya said.
Mahapatra told The Telegraph today: “I hope the state government takes note of the suggestion made by one of its own departments.”
The PMO note was signed by section officer Pavan Maliviya and addressed to chief secretary Sanjay Mitra. In Calcutta, Mitra forwarded the letter to the home secretary, from whose office it travelled to the personnel department.
The personnel department, which receives many such notes, took a routine step. “You are, therefore, requested kindly to take an immediate redressive action after the receipt of this letter and kindly send the action taken report to the petitioner with intimation to this department,” it wrote to the human rights wing of the state home department, which implements rights panel recommendations.
“A copy of the forwarding letter was sent to the PMO as well as the petitioner to make it clear that the process for action has already been initiated by the personnel department,” said a senior official.
However, the state home department — which reports to the chief minister — is in a quandary now. No “redressive action” is possible without the chief minister’s consent. But few officers dare approach her with such a request.
“We are in a fix. In this case, the chief minister herself had raised questions about the recommendations of the state human rights commission. Officials are waiting for a directive from some senior officer,” an official said.
Home department officials said they usually prepare a file and put forward the proposal to the chief minister through the home secretary or the chief secretary. A file has been prepared on Mahapatra, too, but the process has not progressed beyond that.
Earlier this month, Chief Justice A.K. Mishra had allowed Bhattacharyya to file a petition demanding action against the two police officers. Bhattacharyya said today he was ready with that petition.
The case has assumed significance because it will settle the question of accountability of officials if they follow an illegal order issued by the executive. Former Supreme Court judge and current Press Council chief Markandey Katju has often sought the invocation of the Nuremberg principle under which German officers were found guilty for following unjust Nazi orders.