Step down

Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly’s continued clinging to the post of chairperson of the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) has become all the more untenable now with the Union cabinet giving its green signal to a presidential reference seeking a Supreme Court inquiry into allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him by a lawyer-intern.

These allegations had been confirmed earlier by a Supreme Court panel, which held Ganguly prima facie guilty of “unwelcome behaviour” and “unwelcome conduct of sexual nature” with the lawyer-intern. That panel had, however, desisted from recommending further action against him claiming that the intern was not on court’s rolls and Ganguly had demitted office before the incident took place. One would have thought that the SC panel’s moral indictment of Ganguly would have prompted him to resign. It did not. Neither has the recent cabinet decision, which, in effect, underscores that there is substantial reason for his removal. It paves the way for the President to make a reference to the apex court to form a bench to examine the charges against Ganguly and to decide whether he should be removed as WBHRC chief.

The clamour for Ganguly’s resignation as WBHRC’s chairperson has been mounting by the day but the disgraced judge has ignored these calls, claiming he is innocent and has been framed. Several legal luminaries have come to his defence, drawing attention to his impressive record in the judiciary and pointing out that he need not resign unless the government, after following due process, asks him to do so. They are technically correct.

While Ganguly may be well within his rights to continue as WBHRC chairperson even as the inquiry moves forward, his clinging to this august post is hardly the right thing to do. The Commission is an important institution, whose efficacy is already eroded by the fact that it lacks teeth. Its image in the eyes of the West Bengal public will be sullied irretrievably if its chief in the state is a man whose personal integrity is under scrutiny. At a time when his personal reputation is in question, Ganguly should step down if only to spare the institution he heads from the disrepute that stains him. If he resigns now, the Presidential reference will become infructuous. Stepping down is not only the morally correct thing to do, but will also spare him the ignominy of an embarrassing public trial.

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