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Rights cell reduced to former cop

- Unparalleled situation casts cloud on hearings

Calcutta, Jan. 7: The state human rights commission has become virtually defunct with the resignation of chairperson Asok Ganguly today.

The commission, which is supposed to have a chairperson and two members, is left with one member — former director-general of police Naparajit Mukherjee.

“The rights panel will have only one member till the two vacancies are filled. As recommendations to the government can be sent only after the majority in the panel endorses them, the commission has become defunct,” a senior state government official said.

Sources said chief minister Mamata Banerjee was unhappy with the way the commission was functioning under Ganguly.

The retired Supreme Court judge, accused of sexual misconduct by a law intern, had been earlier handpicked by Mamata to head the commission.

But Ganguly had invited the displeasure of the government by recommending compensation to farmer Shiladitya Chowdhury, who had been arrested for asking the chief minister at a rally about fertiliser prices, and Ambikesh Mahapatra, the Jadavpur University professor who had allegedly forwarded a Facebook post lampooning the chief minister.

After commission member S.N. Roy’s term ended on November 16, Mamata had appointed former DG Mukherjee in his place. Sources had said Mukherjee, who is seen as being close to Mamata, had been selected to keep a check on Ganguly.

The tenure of the other member — N.C. Sil — ended on November 1. But as the vacancy is yet to be filled, a section of bureaucrats are speculating that the government wants to make the rights panel toothless.

This is the first time since the commission was set up in the 1990s that it is facing such a situation, said an advocate of Calcutta High Court who did not wish to be named.

“Mukherjee (as the acting chairperson) will be at the helm till there is a replacement for Ganguly. The panel must always be headed by a retired high court chief justice,” the advocate added. “It remains to be seen who the government appoints and when.”

Today, all 19 scheduled hearings of the commission were cancelled.

A source in the commission said: “The rights panel is a chairperson-driven organisation. In the absence of the chairperson, its functioning is bound to be affected.”

The sources said people who came from far-flung districts for today’s hearings had to leave the panel’s Bhabani Bhavan office without any clue on when their cases would be heard. “Nobody knows what will happen from tomorrow. There will be many cancellations over the next few weeks,” he added.

A senior government official said Ganguly’s replacement would be appointed within the next fortnight.

“The chief secretary will issue a notification in a few days, following which the chief minister, the leader of the Opposition and the Assembly Speaker will meet to recommend the next chairperson. The recommendation will be sent to the governor, who will forward it to the President,” the official said.

“Presidential sanction is unlikely to be delayed,” he added.

Rabi Shankar Chatterjee, an advocate of the high court, said it was “extremely unfortunate” that the rights panel had been reduced to “a sham”.

“A former police officer will be heading the Bengal human rights commission for sometime. This is unheard of. The police are so often involved in rights abuse,” he said.