WEST BENGAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION FUNCTIONING WITHOUT A FULL-TIME CHAIRPERSON FOR FIVE MONTHS NOW
By bappaditya paul
The West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) will complete five months of functioning without a full time chairperson on 5 June, and going by indications the post is unlikely to be filled up anytime soon.WBHRC had carved a niche for itself under the chairpersonship of Mr Justice (retired) Asok Kumar Ganguly who stepped down on 6 January under pressure.
Highly placed sources at state secretariat Nabanna have indicated that appointing a new chairperson for the rights panel was not in the government’s priority list.
“Ever since the WBHRC chairperson post fell vacant, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has only once talked about finding a new person for the post. That was about four months ago,” the sources said.They said the state government was likely to wait till December when a few judges of the Supreme Court and chief justices of some of the high courts are due to retire from service. The government considers some of them to be “suitable” for the post. “It is better if we could find a former judge who is a Bengali. If that does not happen, we must find someone who is adequately aware about Bengal,” the sources said.
The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, stipulates that chairperson of a state rights panel must be a former chief justice of a high court or a former judge of the Supreme Court, aged below 70 years.Former director general of West Bengal police Mr Naparajit Mukherjee has been functioning as the acting chairperson of WBHRC since 20 January, but the absence of a full time chairperson has turned the rights panel dormant. Mr Mukherjee had originally joined WBHRC as a non-judicial member in November 2013.
Sources said, during the tenure of Justice Ganguly, WBHRC used to receive around 100 complaints a day; this has now come down to 40. The rights panel has not conducted a single hearing under the acting chairperson till date, sources said.
The WBHRC chairperson post fell vacant on 6 January after the Bengal government compelled Justice Ganguly to step down over allegations of sexual harassment of a law intern and an alleged unauthorised tour to Pakistan.During his tenure, the rights panel had made several recommendations much to the discomfiture of the state government. These included a Rs 50,000 compensation order to Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra who was arrested for allegedly forwarding a cartoon that lampooned and offended the chief minister, a Rs 2 lakh compensation order to Midnapore farmer, Shiladitya Choudhury, whom Miss Banerjee had called a “Maoist” when he tried to draw her attention to the rising price of fertilisers during a public meeting.
Justice Ganguly’s strictures in the Kamduni rape-murder case and the SFI leader Sudipto Gupta’s death in police custody had also caused huge embarrassment to the government.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report was first published in The Statesman on 4 June 2014.)