Asok Ganguly leaves his Calcutta office on Thursday. Picture by Bibhash Lodh
New Delhi, Jan. 2: The Union cabinet today cleared a proposal for a presidential reference seeking a Supreme Court inquiry into three allegations against retired apex court judge Asok Kumar Ganguly, who heads the Bengal human rights commission.
Once the Supreme Court receives such a reference from the President, it can form a bench to look into the charges, setting in motion a process to decide whether Ganguly should be removed from the rights panel if he does not resign.
Ganguly, accused by a law intern of sexual misconduct — a charge he denies — will have the opportunity to defend himself before the bench.
Section 23(1A) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, states that a state human rights commission member or chairperson “shall only be removedů by order of the President on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity” after the apex court, on inquiry, reports that the person be removed.
Ganguly today said “the cabinet is doing its job and I shall do my job”, and asserted he would attend his rights panel office tomorrow.
The main charge in the proposal cleared today relates to the allegation of sexual misconduct. A panel of Supreme Court judges had earlier said the intern’s statement, prima facie, “discloses an act of unwelcome behaviour” by Ganguly.
The Centre has tagged with this two other charges, both made by Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee last month in a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee that sought Ganguly’s exit from the rights panel.
Mamata had alleged that Ganguly visited Pakistan in June without informing her government and at the expense of an NGO. She had also questioned the ethics of Ganguly’s Delhi visit last year to settle a sports-related dispute at the request of India’s football federation.
Under the law, the chairperson or any member of a state human rights commission can be removed if the member is found to have taken up “paid employment outside the duties of his office”.
The following are Ganguly’s responses to questions The Telegraph asked him this evening.
Q: Are you aware the cabinet has cleared a proposal for a president reference for a detailed inquiry on the allegations of sexual misconduct and other charges against you?
A: I still have no such information.
Q: What will you do after you are informed about the presidential reference?
A: The cabinet is doing its job and I shall do my job.
Q: Did you go to your office at the Bengal human rights commission today?
A: Yes, I did attend office and spent the entire office hours there.
Q: Will you attend office tomorrow?
Unlike the BJP, which has demanded Ganguly’s removal from the rights panel, the Centre has been cautious on the subject. Today, finance minister P. Chidambaram declined to comment on the subject.
“The proposal of the ministry of home affairs has been approved, but there is nothing to report on that,” he told reporters.
Earlier, attorney-general G.E. Vahanvati had recommended a Presidential reference on the sexual misconduct charge while taking “cognisance” of the charges made in Mamata’s letter. The Centre, however, has included all three charges.