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Rights hearings off

Calcutta, Jan. 8: The West Bengal Human Rights Commission has decided to defer hearings till former chairman Asok Kumar Ganguly’s replacement is appointed.

Ganguly, accused of sexual misconduct by a law intern, has quit the rights panel. As the three-member commission now has only one member — former director-general of police Naparajit Mukherjee — it will not be able to make recommendations to the government for lack of a majority to endorse decisions.

The panel postponed the hearings of 19 cases yesterday and two more today. For today’s hearings, the sub-divisional police officer of Serampore, the inspector in charge of Bally police station, and the officer in charge and SDPO of Kakdwip had been summoned as witnesses.

The hearings could not be held as the lone member — Mukherjee — does not have the power to do so. Only the chairman, who has to be a retired high court Chief Justice, can hear cases.

“Hearings of the 21 cases and those scheduled for the next few days have been deferred till the appointment of the new chairman,” a commission source said.

This is the first time since the commission was formed in the 1990s that it has been forced to defer hearings indefinitely.

According to the source, the commission cannot conduct hearings in the absence of a quorum — two out of three members in this case.

“In the absence of a quorum, Mukherjee is not entitled to accept complaints or seek reports from the police taking suo motu cognisance of violations. Without the hearings, the commission cannot take any action,” the source said.

A commission official said Mukherjee today went through files of ongoing cases, seeking “routine” reports on some.

After commission member S.N. Roy’s term ended on November 16 last year, chief minister Mamata Banerjee had appointed 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, who had recommended that the government pay compensation in some cases.

Government officials today iterated that Ganguly’s replacement would be appointed in a fortnight.