Quasi-Judicial bodies in West Bengal have been lying in a limbo for years

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. File

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. File | Photo Credit: PTI

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday announced appointments to key posts of West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC), West Bengal Information Commission ( WBIC) and Lokayukta.

While former Calcutta High Court Chief Justice Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya will be the chairman of WBHRC and Justice (retd.) Madhumita Mitra has been nominated as a member of the WBHRC. Retired Calcutta High Court judge Asim Kumar Roy’s has been re-nominated as the State’s Lokayukta. The names of retired IPS officer Virendra, and retired IAS officer Naveen Prakash have been proposed for the post of Information Commissioners at West Bengal Information Commission.

While there have been issues between the State government and West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar about the appointments to key posts of the quasi-judicial bodies, what is most crucial that these Commissions have been lying in limbo for years. Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari decided to skip the meeting on Monday at the State Secretariat where the decisions on the key appointments were considered.

‘Tardy pace’

Right activists and researchers have often raised questions on the tardy pace at these bodies work and avoid politically and socially sensitive issues.  The term of Justice (retd.) Girish Chandra Gupta, the former chairperson of the WBHRC expired in December 2021 and since then the Commission has been functioning without any chairperson. The WBHRC did not have chairperson for almost three years after retired Supreme Court Judge Asok Kumar Ganguly resigned in 2014.  

In the recent past WBHRC did not take any note of the Bogtui violence in Birbhum which claimed nine lives on March 21.  The WBHRC also did not take note of recent incidents of incidents of sexual assault on women particularly minors where the Calcutta High Court intervened and post poll violence in the State after the 2021 Assembly polls. The National Human Rights Commission had intervened both in post violence and the violence at Bogtui. The website of WBHRC points out that the Commission has taken cognisance in a number of cases relating to custodial deaths in the State.

When it comes to State’s Lokayukta, the track record has not been better either. West Bengal passed the Lokayukta Act in 2003, and the first Lokayukta was appointed in 2006. After the tenure of Samaresh Banerjee ended in 2009, a new Lokayukta was appointed in 2019, after a long gap of ten years. A Right to Information (RTI) application filed by socio- legal researcher and activist Biswanath Goswami in 2021 has revealed that the Lokayukta did not complete a single investigation in his term. Justice Ashim Roy’s name has been re-nominated as Lokayukta for the second time. 

Poor disposal rate

West Bengal Information Commission was one of the first information commissions to set up by any State government. Since its start in 2005 the WBIC has been manned by bureaucrats and retired police officers. The Chief Minister on Monday said that there is a provision to nominates people from other walks of society to the Commission, but the State government has not been able to find a suitable person.

Mr. Goswami also pointed out that the disposal rate of the full bench of WBIC has been “negligible” when compared to other State Information Commission and Central Information Commission. “The WBIC website shows that 26 cases were disposed in February 2022. The disposal rate at CIC is on an average 3,500 a year for every Information Commissioner,” he added.  Mr. Goswami, who has been monitoring the functioning of quasi-judicial bodies for the past several years added that “because of the opaque functioning of these bodies people do not get confidence to approach them”.

“What is unfortunate is that these quasi-judicial bodies who have legal powers to strengthen democracy and fix accountability, purposely avoids politically sensitive issues that might have a bearing on the State government,” he added.

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Printable version | May 25, 2022 5:28:35 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/quasi-judicial-bodies-in-west-bengal-have-been-lying-in-a-limbo-for-years/article65457027.ece