LIFE IMITATES CARTOON BUT WITH ROLE REVERSAL Mamata govt suffers a legal blow in joke case — on the same day her party began exploring ways to banish the Mukul who was on Didi’s side in the ‘Vanish!’ cartoon
March 10: Calcutta High Court today upheld the state human rights commission's recommendation for compensation to a professor and his neighbour who were arrested on the charge of circulating an Internet joke on chief minister Mamata Banerjee in 2012.
Justice Dipankar Dutta also asked the state government to start departmental proceedings against two officers of Jadavpur East police station who had arrested and harassed Ambikesh Mahapatra, the Jadavpur University professor, and his septuagenarian neighbour Subrata Sengupta.
In 2013, the state government had rejected the recommendations of the commission, which was headed by former Supreme Court judge Asok Kumar Ganguly. In 2012, the commission had asked the government to pay Mahapatra and Sengupta Rs 50,000 each.
Sources said the state government was expected to appeal against the high court order.
Widely condemned and following close on the heels of Mamata's controversial remarks on the Park Street rape, the cartoon crackdown had played a decisive role in ending Mamata's honeymoon in power.
Today, too, the cartoon served to underscore the distance Mamata had travelled since that fateful morning of 2012 when an incredulous Bengal woke up to the news that arrests had been carried out over a joke.
Three years on, when the verdict was being delivered in Calcutta, Mamata, whose meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday did not go as well as she had anticipated and was somewhat undervalued by the revelation that Mukul Roy had already met him in February, was keeping herself indoors in Delhi.
Her party was trying to explore disciplinary options against Roy, who occupies pride of place near the party supremo in the cartoon but no longer so in real life.
Roy, who shares his first name with the boy in the Satyajit Ray film that inspired the Internet joke, was today banished to the last row in the Rajya Sabha. "The party's disciplinary committee has asked me to prepare a dossier of all the statements Mukul Roy has made in the media. He has been making statements that are completely against the party view," party spokesperson Derek O'Brien said.
In the high court in Calcutta, Justice Dutta directed the state to "carry out the order within one month of receiving the copy of the order".
The detailed judgment was not available till this evening but Mahapatra's counsel and former mayor Bikash Bhattacharyya said: "Justice Dutta has opined that in this particular case, the state government would have to carry out the human rights commission's recommendations."
Mahapatra, the professor, said later in the day: "I am happy with the high court order. I will be happier if the government carries out the order now instead of challenging it before a bench."
Justice Ganguly, whose recommendations were rejected by the government, told The Telegraph : "It is a victory of democracy. Rights panels are set up to see whether the fundamental rights of a person are being protected by the state. I made my recommendations after conducting a thorough inquiry."
In May 2013, while rejecting his recommendations, the state government had said that Mahapatra and Sengupta had been arrested for their own safety - the professor had been assaulted by a mob of Trinamul supporters for circulating the joke hours before his arrest.
Mahapatra and Sengupta, a retired PWD engineer, had moved the high court in November 2013.
The two had been charged under IPC Sections 500 (defamation against President/Vice-President, administrator or minister), 509 (uttering any word or making any gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and 114 (abetment of any offence when abettor is present) and Section 66A of the IT Act (sending offensive material using electronic communication device).
The police later dropped the charges under the IPC sections. The original case is pending in a lower court.