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Human Rights Day question hangs over human rights chief

Asok Kumar Ganguly

Calcutta, Dec. 9: Many eyes will be glued to the Sesquicentenary Hall of Calcutta High Court tomorrow — the World Human Rights Day.

A big question will be answered then: whether West Bengal Human Rights Commission chairperson Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly, accused of sexually harassing an intern, will preside over the programme to mark the day.

Unlike last year, when Ganguly’s presence at the programme was confirmed, there is an uncertainty over his attendance this time at the most important event on the state rights panel’s annual roster.

“I have not yet decided whether I will attend the programme or not. I will take the decision only tomorrow,” Ganguly told The Telegraph this evening.

No one in the rights panel would confirm if he would attend or skip tomorrow’s programme.

If the former judge doesn’t attend the programme, for which invitation cards have already been sent out, it will be a first. Never before had a rights commission chairperson stayed away from the World Human Rights Day programme, a source said.

Ganguly has not been attending the rights panel’s Bhabani Bhavan office since last Friday.

Although the Mamata Banerjee government has already written to the Centre demanding Ganguly’s removal from the constitutional post, sources close to him have said that he doesn’t have any plan to remit office as of now as the charges against him are yet to be proved.

“If he turns up at tomorrow’s programme, it will send a message that he will not resign on the basis of the allegations alone,” a senior advocate of Calcutta High Court said.

Every year, most judges of Calcutta High Court turn up at the rights panel’s programme, where an eminent guest is invited to share his or her thoughts on human rights.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee was the guest of honour last year, but she had skipped the programme citing “tight schedule” and “pre-fixed engagements”.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee is the guest of honour at tomorrow’s programme. Chatterjee, who was senior to Ganguly during his days as a lawyer in the high court, has till now stood by the retired Supreme Court judge.

“I simply refuse to believe the charges against him,” Chatterjee had told this newspaper a few days ago.

Chatterjee today said: “I will be attending the programme.”

A division bench headed by Chief Justice A.K. Mishra has allowed advocate Ramaprasad Sarkar to file a PIL seeking action against Ganguly.

The petitioner claimed that common people had lost faith in the rights commission because of Ganguly’s alleged misconduct.

“The court should ask the state government to take steps so that common people can regain their faith in the rights panel,” Sarkar said in his petition.

Some advocates said the state did not have the powers to take action against the rights panel chief as he was holding a constitutional post.

“The state has done whatever it could by requesting the Centre to replace him,” a lawyer said.