April 05, 2020
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‘SC Panel’s Finding Can’t Be Treated As A Conviction’

Former Lok Sabha Speaker lashed out at those demanding Justice Ganguly’s resignation

‘SC Panel’s Finding Can’t Be Treated As A Conviction’
‘SC Panel’s Finding Can’t Be Treated As A Conviction’
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Former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, in an interview to Outlook, lashed out at those demanding Justice Ganguly’s resignation as Chairman of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission.

You are among those to have stood by Justice A.K. Ganguly and his decision not to step down as chairman of WBHRC.

Why should he step down? There is a legal procedure which has to be followed if the chairman of the Human Rights Commission has to be removed or made to resign. Section 23 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1992 makes it mandatory for any demand for the removal of the concerned person be supported by evidence that he has either been convicted or received punishment in a criminal case before he can  be removed or be made to resign. As far as Justice Ganguly’s case is concerned, he has not even been tried in a court of law. There is not even an investigation into his case by a legitimate legal authority.

But a three-member panel comprising two Supreme Court chief justices have established prima facie that “an act of unwelcome verbal/non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature had been committed” by Justice A.K. Ganguly.

With all due respect, I am not sure how the so-called findings of a panel can be treated as a conviction of a person’s guilty. The panel has merely made an observation based on its members’ interaction or interrogation of the two parties concerned. However, this cannot take the place of an actual trial by a court of law. This matter is being dealt with in the most absurd manner. The man is being pronounced guilty by a public trial.

But legal authorities too have made demands for his removal.

Yes, that is precisely what is more shocking. It’s not even just the public or the media. But experts in the field of law too are lending their voice to this disturbing new trend of popular trial. They should know better.

Lawyers? Such as additional solicitor general Indira Jaising, for instance?

I will not name anyone but yes, some very prominent legal authorities, well-versed in the laws of the land.

But when a person in a position of power is accused of a crime such as sexual harassment, is it not the expected norm for him to step down?

There is a difference betw­een, say, people in positions of power who can influence investigation and those who cannot. That is the principle behind this practice. But what power does the chairman of a human rights commission have to influence investigation? None at all. He neither controls the police nor the courts nor any other investigating body.

What about arrests? Tarun Tejpal has been taken to jail after allegations of sexual harassment were made against him.

There is a huge difference between the two cases. Tarun Tejpal had admitted to (a sexual liaison) whether by consent or otherwise, but Justice Ganguly has categorically denied any overture or misconduct on his part. In the earlier case, a police case had been filed. In this case, not even an FIR has been registered.

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