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Govt activates option-hunt on Ganguly
- Centre seeks law officer’s opinion on Bengal’s plea to remove former judge from rights panel

New Delhi, Dec. 19: The Centre has sought the opinion of attorney-general G.E. Vahanvati on the Bengal government’s plea to remove Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly as chairperson of the state’s human rights commission.

The Union law ministry has sent relevant files to the law officer, following a request from the home ministry.

“I have not given any opinion so far,” Vahanvati, who is in Mumbai, told The Telegraph.

The government is exploring two options to remove the former Supreme Court judge, who has been accused by a law intern of sexually harassing her.

One of the options is to request the President to remove him directly. Under Section 23(2) of the Human Rights Act, 1994, the President can remove the chairperson or any member of a state human rights commission if the member is found to have taken up “paid employment outside the duties of his office”.

Ganguly, who has rejected calls to step down, had last year headed a probe into a sports-related incident at the request of India’s football federation.

The other option is to make a presidential reference to the Supreme Court for his removal on the ground of “proved misbehaviour” or “incapacity”. If the government decides to exercise this option, the top court, on the reference made by the President, would have to hold an inquiry and report that the person concerned can be removed.

In Calcutta, former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee said it would be a “travesty of justice” if the Supreme Court was requested by the Centre to probe the allegations against Ganguly afresh.

“It would be a travesty of justice. The Supreme Court has already made an administrative inquiry. How can the Supreme Court go into its own findings again?” Chatterjee, who had earlier said it was “easy to malign” somebody, told PTI.

A panel of three Supreme Court judges had gone into the intern’s allegations and said it was of the considered view that the complaint prima facie “discloses an act of unwelcome behaviour (unwelcome verbal/non-verbal conduct of sexual nature)” by the retired judge.

Opinion is veering around to the view that Ganguly should be asked to explain whether he had taken any allowances from the All India Football Federation, which had appointed a one-man commission under the retired judge to probe an incident of on-field violence in December 2012.

The alleged sexual harassment took place last December in a five-star hotel where Ganguly was staying, ostensibly to settle the football-related dispute.

The Human Rights Act, 1994, which governs the functioning of state rights panels, forbids the chairperson or any member from taking up any form of employment for monetary gain. Any violation of this provision is a strong ground for removal.

Since the Bengal government has already recommended Ganguly’s removal, the President can, under the 1994 act, forward the recommendation to the Supreme Court. The court, in turn, would conduct a hearing by allowing Ganguly to be represented by his lawyers and the state by its counsel.

If, after the hearing, the apex court feels he should be removed, it can direct the state to do so.

In cases like insolvency, unsound mind or conviction for moral turpitude, however, the President can remove a rights panel’s chairperson on the recommendation of the state concerned, without taking recourse to the apex court.

Trinamul MP and lawyer Kalyan Banerjee said a delegation of party MPs met the President during the day and requested him to take steps for Ganguly’s removal.

A PTI report in Calcutta quoted Ganguly as saying that he was being “hounded like a criminal” by the media.