The West Bengal Human Rights Commission, which was hailed last year for setting a benchmark in rights activism because of its proactive role, is now drawing the ire of activists who are terming it a “symbol of oppression”.
Besides deploring the elevation of former top cop Naparajit Mukherjee as the acting chairperson, activists have questioned the panel’s silence on rights violations, including Trinamool Congress parliamentarian Tapas Paul publicly exhorting to kill and rape, that have hit the headlines in the state.
The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government appointed former director general of police Mukherjee as acting chairperson after A.K. Ganguly resigned as the panel head.
The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), which has approached the high court opposing Mukherjee’s membership, cried foul.
“Mukherjee’s tenure as a policeman was marked by several fake encounters, indiscriminate police firings and custodial tortures with some of them still being probed. The biggest irony is the commission is now a symbol of oppression with a predator having been made the defender,” APDR secretary Ranjit Sur told a news agency.
As only a retired apex court judge or a former chief justice of a high court is eligible to be the head of a rights commission, activists said it is unconstitutional and illegal for Mukherjee to shoulder the responsibility as chairperson even in the interim.
With Ganguly at the helm till early this year, the panel was lauded by activists for taking suo motu cognisance of human rights violation cases and making recommendations that amounted to censure of the Banerjee administration.
Be it the arrest of Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra for circulating emails mocking the chief minister or marginal farmer Shiladitya Chowdhury getting labelled as a Maoist for questioning the government’s policies, the panel had minced no words in deploring the administration’s excesses.
Sur also questioned the role of Trinamool which had led a relentless campaign seeking Ganguly’s resignation as the panel head following allegations of sexually harassing an intern.
“With the Union Home Ministry now confirming there is no formal allegation of sexual harassment against Justice Ganguly for proceeding against him, it is amply clear that the witch-hunt against him was made with the sinister motive of removing him,” said Sur.
With the panel remaining silent on cases like the rape of a tribal woman at the behest of kangaroo court in Birbhum district, the activists are pointing fingers at the Banerjee regime.
“No government likes a proactive human rights panel and this government is no different. By inducting its chosen ones, the government has ensured the panel is silent, no matter how grave an incident is.”
“When the whole country stood in unison condemning Paul, the commission behaved as if it didn’t exist. The national women’s commission came calling in the Birbhum case, but the WBHRC remained unmoved,” said Choton Das, general secretary of Bandi Mukti Committee.
With activists now preferring to move the National Human Rights Commission panel with their grievances, rights activist Kiriti Roy questioned the existence of the state panel.
“It is unfortunate that the country’s first state commission has become a subject of mockery and ridicule. While Ganguly had injected a new life to it, this government has completely rendered it useless,” said Roy.
While refusing to comment on the issue, Ganguly, a former Supreme Court judge who delivered several high profile judgements, including the 2G spectrum scam, did not hide his disappointment.
“I’ve nothing to say. It’s there for all to see,” Ganguly told a news agency.
The commission which had remained dysfunctional for months for want of a judicial member after Ganguly’s resignation in January, insists it has been functioning efficiently after Mani Shankar Dwivedi joined as a judicial member in April.
“It’s a wrong perception that the commission has not been functioning. It’s just that we have been doing our work silently and sans any publicity. We will come out with suitable recommendations once the findings are complete,” said an official even as he admitted that the number of complaints to the panel has dropped drastically.
The commission’s official web site shows it had made its last recommendation on October 02, 2013, about the vandalism of the Presidency University asking the state government to formulate guidelines for dealing with cases of unlawful activities by the students in educational institutions.