Justice (retd.) A.K. Ganguly has done the right thing by resigning from his position as chairperson of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission. Although belated, his resignation will help preserve the dignity of his office, which was seriously undermined after he was accused by a law intern of making improper sexual advances. It will also protect the dignity of the Supreme Court, of which he was a respected judge for some years, and hopefully reassure the country that the judicial fraternity does not consider itself above the moral imperative of upholding ethics and necessary propriety. It was a month ago that it was disclosed officially that a three-judge committee rendered a preliminary finding that there was “unwelcome verbal/non-verbal conduct of [a] sexual nature” on his part. This rendered his continuance in office untenable, and resignation was the only rational course of action. Yet, displaying an unconscionable intransigence, Mr. Ganguly chose to stay on in office and insinuated that there was a political conspiracy to tarnish his image. The West Bengal Chief Minister wrote to the President demanding action against him, Members of Parliament asked for his resignation, and excerpts from the intern’s affidavit were made public, but none of this had a chastening effect on him. Ultimately, the Union Cabinet’s decision approving the terms of a Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court, preparatory to his formal removal from office, got him to quit. It should help him avoid further embarrassment when the court starts formal hearing on the reference.
By instituting an inquiry as soon as the allegation surfaced and by disclosing the panel’s findings, the Supreme Court showed welcome sensitivity and transparency in its functioning. While routine legal processes may be required for determining guilt or innocence, or for removing someone from office, the preservation of institutional integrity must be achieved through quick decisions based on moral principles. The judiciary must set higher standards for itself and not seem to take shelter behind protracted probes; nor should it give the impression that it is letting matters drift when it comes to dealing with its own members. One question remains: whether the lawyer who accused Mr. Ganguly of misconduct will pursue the matter to its logical conclusion through an appropriate legal process. Her view that she has the autonomy to decide on it at an appropriate time deserves respect. But by going public with her experience, she has ensured that it is possible to pursue and ensure accountability, regardless of the status and position of those facing such charges. That is at least one positive result of an otherwise sordid and unfortunate episode.