Calcutta, Feb. 6: Asok Kumar Ganguly, the former Supreme Court judge who was forced to resign from the helm of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission, has expressed dismay at the panel’s perceived inertia since his exit.
“What can I say, you tell me? It’s bewildering…. This situation is unprecedented in Bengal. A matter of grave concern for human rights in this state,” Ganguly, whose ouster was sought by the Mamata Banerjee government after an allegation of sexual misconduct, said today in response to a question.
The state human rights panel has drawn criticism for not initiating action on at least two complaints of gang rape in Birbhum and Howrah.
Reduced to just one member after Ganguly’s exit on January 6, the panel is now headed by acting chairperson Naparajit Mukherjee, a retired IPS officer who served as the Bengal director-general of police.
Virtually defunct now with just one member, the panel will not be able to conduct hearings or make recommendations to the government because majority decisions cannot be taken.
But little prevents the commission from seeking reports from the police administration on alleged incidents of rights violation. Such a proactive approach would have helped address concerns of a former police officer being the sole official arbiter of human rights, especially since the role of the police almost always comes under scrutiny in such cases.
Sources in the police administration said the rights panel had shown “no interest” in seeking such reports since the exit of Ganguly who had issued multiple orders that had embarrassed the state government. Neither has the government evinced interest in finding a replacement for Ganguly.
“I would most certainly have taken cognisance of these incidents. I would have sought reports and gone through them meticulously for rights violations,” Ganguly said.
In January, 13 men allegedly gang-raped a 20-year-old tribal woman at Birbhum’s Labhpur after a meeting of community leaders ordered the “punishment”. On Tuesday night, a 26-year-old woman and her aunt-in-law were allegedly gang-raped in Howrah’s Amta.
The last known action by the panel on such a crime appears to have been taken when Ganguly was in charge.
According to Ganguly, he had sought a detailed report on the Madhyamgram incident in which a 16-year-old girl was gang-raped twice. She later died of burn injuries.
“I had gone through the report and I had some observations. Before I could make recommendations, I had forwarded the report to Mukherjee for his perusal. He took some time with it. Before I could do anything about (the) Madhyamgram (incident), I had to resign,” Ganguly said.
Mukherjee, the acting chairperson and former DGP, was not available for comment.
An official at Nabanna, the state secretariat, said: “This is exactly what the government had desired. This is why the government has been dragging its feet on finding replacements. There is no movement on filling up the vacancies.
The commission can take suo motu cognisance of incidents and ask for reports from the police administration. If the reports are satisfactory, the commission can allow the police to carry on with the investigation, while keeping an eye on developments.
If some lapses are found, the commission can conduct its own probe, involving hearings, after which it can recommend departmental action against the police and compensation to the victim, if needed.
After commission member S.N. Roy’s term ended on November 16 last year, the chief minister had appointed Mukherjee in his place. The replacement for the judicial member, lying vacant since the end of N.C. Sil’s term, is yet to be found.
Ganguly had invited the displeasure of the government by recommending compensation to a professor who was harassed and arrested for allegedly forwarding a Facebook post lampooning Mamata and seeking action against some police officers.
When an intern levelled the allegation of misconduct against the former judge, Trinamul was among those at the forefront demanding his scalp. The chief minister had written to President Pranab Mukherjee, seeking Ganguly’s removal from the helm of the rights panel.
“I resigned exactly a month ago. For a month prior to that, the government had been seeking my removal. I did not resign on my own, suddenly. So the government was aware of the possibility of the vacancy. I don’t know why the vacancy remains to be filled,” Ganguly said.
The government had then stated its intention to appoint his successor within a fortnight. But even after a month has passed, the initial steps of the appointment procedure are yet to be taken. “Even the informal search for possible appointees is yet to begin,” said a senior official.