Body in search of a head

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.Human Rights collageWBHRC 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.Mamata BanerjeeThey 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.Naparajit MukherjeeFormer 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. Justice AK Ganguly 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.)

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One thought on “Body in search of a head”

  1. A TOOTHLESS ENTITY
    SIR, This refers to the report “Body in search of a head” (4 June). The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has been reduced to a non-entity following the resignation of its Chairman, Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly, on 6 January. The relationship between the Chief Minister and the SHRC chief had soured when Justice Ganguly levelled 27 cases against the state government for violation of human rights. Miss Banerjee has filled the vacancy of the non-judicial member with the retirement of Sourin Roy, by appointing the former DGP, Naparajit Mukherjee. But the vacant slot of Justice NC Sil, who retired on 1 November, is yet to be filled. In effect, the state HRC has been reduced to a toothless entity. Maybe this suits the Chief Minister fine.
    Yours, etc., SS Paul,
    Chakdaha, 4 June.

    (This comment first appeared in The Statesman on 6 June 2014)

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