Asok Kumar Ganguly (left) with Somnath Chatterjee at the programme in Calcutta High Court on Tuesday. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha
Calcutta, Dec. 10: Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee today said “with all due respect” that the Supreme Court need not have handled the matter of former judge Asok Kumar Ganguly when it could not have proceeded beyond observations.
“The Supreme Court panel was aware that it could not have proceeded in the matter, why did it need to make an observation? Why make such an observation when you cannot proceed?” Chatterjee said this evening on the sidelines of a Human Rights Day event in Calcutta.
Ganguly, who heads the West Bengal Human Rights Commission, has so far ignored calls to step down from the post. The state government has written to the President seeking Ganguly’s removal after the former judge was accused by an intern of sexual misconduct.
When reporters asked him earlier in the day if he was stepping down from the post, he replied: “No, I am not.”
During his speech at the rights commission programme, held in Calcutta High Court, Ganguly steered clear of the controversy but cited an instance from Mahatma Gandhi’s life to say that those fighting for human rights had to pay a price.
Referring to the humiliation heaped on Gandhi when he was thrown out of a train in South Africa’s Pietermaritzburg in 1893 after a white man objected to his presence in the same compartment and how the incident put him on the path of non-violence, Ganguly said: “This was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi…. So you see, no fight for human rights is in vain…. Those who fight for human rights have to pay a price. Those who try to uphold human rights have also got to pay a price.”
Gandhi’s name was invoked today in South Africa, too. In his eulogy to Nelson Mandela, President Barack Obama drew a parallel between the struggles of the Mahatma and the anti-apartheid icon.
On Thursday, an apex court panel of three senior judges had observed that the statement of the intern “prima facie discloses an unwelcome behaviour (unwelcome verbal/non-verbal conduct of sexual nature)”. But the court had said “representations made against former judges of this court are not entertainable by the administration” of the court.
Asked if he thought the court panel was mala fide in the action, Chatterjee said today: “With all due respect, overzealous, I would say, maybe not mala fide.”
Since the apex court made the operative part of the panel’s report public, Ganguly has not been attending the human rights body’s office.
After the programme to mark World Human Rights Day, Ganguly left the venue without speaking to reporters.
But former Lok Sabha Speaker Chatterjee, who had earlier stood by Ganguly, stopped to answer questions and appeared critical of the Supreme Court’s role in the issue. “Why go into the matter at all? Then why decide to not touch upon the subject thereafter?” he asked.
| Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, played by Ben Kingsley, in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi
In response to a question on whether Ganguly should step down from his post as the chairperson of the state human rights commission, Chatterjee said he had “full faith” in the retired judge’s discretion. “I am sure he knows what he has to do. Unless proven guilty, we cannot question his integrity,” he added.
Sources close to Ganguly said the former apex court judge was “being framed”.
Ganguly had a run-in with the state government after he recommended compensation for victims of human rights violations during the Trinamul rule.
Legal observers said his comments today were “significant” against the backdrop of the recent controversy.
“He cannot speak about it directly in public, being a jurist himself. There was, however, a broad hint in his mention of the Mahatma Gandhi incident and what followed,” a legal source close to Ganguly said.