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Ganguly speaks of ‘hostile approach’

- Former judge on why he resigned
Ganguly at his residence. Picture by Anup Bhattacharya

New Delhi, Jan. 7: Former judge Asok Kumar Ganguly, whose resignation from the helm of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission was accepted today, has said he stepped down on account of the hostile attitude of the state government.

Ganguly, who has been accused by an intern of sexual misconduct, denied the charges against him, describing them as “unfounded and baseless”. The following are excerpts from an interview over the phone:

Q: Have you resigned as the chairperson of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission?

Ganguly: Yes, I have resigned and it has been accepted. I have resigned to uphold my dignity and that of the number of posts I have held. I have not surrendered to any pressure but will continue to work for restoration of human rights of the common man. I am a victim of conspiracy but please don’t compel me to say anything further on the issue.

Q: What was the main reason for your decision?

Ganguly: I was impelled by the state government’s hostile approach and decision to frame two additional charges against me for my removal through a presidential reference. (The two charges are Ganguly’s trip to Pakistan without prior permission of the state government and acceptance of an arbitration assignment on behalf of the All India Football Federation.)

Q: How do you respond to the charge related to the Pakistan trip?

Ganguly: The first ground was that of going to Pakistan for two days. But you must know that the restriction imposed on going abroad is only on sitting judges. No longer am I a sitting judge. I have a fundamental right to go abroad. This can be restricted only by law.

So, only when the law restricts, the restriction will apply. There is no such embargo on me under the Human Rights Act.

A sitting judge enjoys diplomatic passport. I went to Pakistan on an ordinary passport. Second, tickets for the travel were provided to me by an NGO in India. It is not a foreign organisation.

I have stayed in the house of a lawyer friend in Pakistan for two days. There was no (Pakistan) government contribution. And the rules of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010, do not apply to casual hospitality for two days. As a retired judge, Section 6 of the FCRA would not apply to me. (The section mandates prior permission from the Centre to receive or spend money obtained from a foreign source). So, that cannot be a ground for my removal.

A previous chairperson of the WBHRC (West Bengal Human Rights Commission) had stayed in America for over one-and-a-half months without the prior permission of the state government. No questions were asked at that time. But I do not want to name the person in public.

Q: What about the second charge?

Ganguly: The state Human Rights Act only prohibits paid employment. What is not permitted under Section 23 of the act is paid employment. When an arbitrator is appointed by a party, he does not become an employee, nor does the appointing party become an employer. An arbitrator is an independent authority, he cannot be controlled by the party at all. The party cannot give any command to the arbitrator.

However, I have no rancour towards anybody, including my detractors. I wish them all the best in their life.

(In the resignation letter to governor M.K. Narayanan, Ganguly said that “the purpose recommended to the Hon’ble President for my removal, are based on grounds, which, in my opinion, are untenable and misconceived”.

Ganguly added: “However, to obviate any further controversy and to ensure peace and happiness of the members of my family and having regard to the fact that I held the high office of a judge and I am presently holding the post of chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission and being humbly of the view that I have possibly lived up to the expectation of both, I have decided to resign from the post of the chairman of the commission with immediate effect.

“I have no attachment to any post, unless I can work with dignity and honour and I understand that it is not possible under the present situation.”)

With Ganguly resigning, the presidential reference becomes redundant.

‘Unfortunate’

In Bengal, sources said the governor’s secretariat had forwarded the letter in the afternoon to home secretary Basudeb Banerjee and the President’s office.

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who had stood by Ganguly since the controversy erupted, said the resignation was “very unfortunate”.

“The way both the state and central government forced him to resign is very unfortunate. He was prosecuted before trial,” Chatterjee said this evening.

The next chairperson of the rights panel will be picked by a committee of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the home minister (also Mamata in this case), leader of the Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra and Speaker Biman Banerjee. The choice requires the approval of the President.