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If Ganguly does not quit, long road ahead

New Delhi, Nov. 30: Many legal luminaries have vouched for the credentials of Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly but others feel he should set high standards by stepping down on his own as the West Bengal Human Rights Commission chairperson and uphold the credibility of the institution.

The credibility of the commission that champions the cause of human rights is bound to take a beating if an accused person is at the helm of affairs, said senior Supreme Court lawyer and human rights activist Anand Grover.

Another senior counsel Ashok Bhan asked: “Can an accused preside over such an important panel? Justice Ganguly, in my view, should resign or recuse and submit himself to any inquiry/investigation to allow the law to take its own course.”

Bhan pointed out that the harassment complaint by the intern itself pertained to gross violation of an individual’s rights — all the more reason for Ganguly to recuse himself from the statutory commission set up to protect such rights.

But Bhan added that his views were strictly limited to the harassment complaint, not the performance of Ganguly as a judge. “As far as my personal knowledge goes, he has been a good and upright judge on the judicial side,” he added.

If the chairman of a body like the human rights commission does not step down on his own, the continuation will depend upon the state government and the President.

Under Section 23 of the Human Rights Act, 1994, the process involves multiple stages and cannot be as swift as voluntary resignation.

The state government has the power to recommend to the President the removal of occupants of such posts. The President can forward the state’s recommendation to the Supreme Court if the charges relate to misbehaviour and misconduct.

The Supreme Court will conduct a hearing, allowing the person to be represented by lawyers and the state by its own counsel. After the hearing, if the apex court feels that removal is warranted, it can direct the state to replace the person from the helm of a body such as the human rights panel.

But in certain cases such as unsound mind and conviction for moral turpitude, the President can remove the chairperson on the recommendation of the state, without taking recourse to the Supreme Court.

Senior counsel Bhan felt that the very fact that the Supreme Court spokesperson had named Ganguly should be reason enough for the former judge to set an example by stepping down.

“The disclosure itself is very clear and more than a prima facie case,” Grover said.

Under the Human Rights Act, “a person appointed as chairperson shall hold office for a term of five years from the date on which he enters upon his office or until he attains the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier”.

Ganguly took over the chair of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission in April 2012. Born on February 3, 1947, Ganguly’s tenure at the helm of the rights panel can continue till February 3, 2017, under the normal course.

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